In a groundbreaking achievement for the telecommunications industry, AST SpaceMobile has announced successful tests of space-based cellular broadband that delivers 4G data speeds directly to unmodified smartphones.
1. Space-based cellular data
The company’s BlueWalker 3 satellite, which uses AT&T spectrum and Nokia RAN technology, has repeatedly achieved download speeds above 10 Mbps during recent tests conducted in Hawaii with everyday smartphones. These accomplishments position AST SpaceMobile as a frontrunner in the race to provide space-based cellular broadband directly to mobile devices, with the potential to revolutionize wireless connectivity by expanding coverage for mobile network operators worldwide.
BlueWalker 3 is the largest-ever commercial communications array in low-Earth orbit. Spanning 693 square feet, the satellite is designed to communicate directly with cellular devices via standard frequencies, bridging the gap between space and mobile networks.
AST SpaceMobile’s vision of providing cellular broadband directly from space is a significant step forward in expanding global connectivity. As highlighted by Abel Avellan, Chairman and CEO of AST SpaceMobile, the company’s technology aims to fill gaps in cellular coverage and, with agreements and understandings in place with over 35 operators, they plan to provide cellular broadband services to hundreds of millions of people currently lacking reliable coverage. Avellan underlined the capabilities of their space-based cellular network, which not only supports voice and text but also enables internet browsing, file downloads, messaging apps, and video streaming.
Achieving this milestone (…) is another groundbreaking moment in telecommunications history and an important step toward AST SpaceMobile’s goal of bringing broadband services to parts of the world where cellular coverage is either unreliable or simply does not exist today.Abel Avellan, Chairman and CEO of AST SpaceMobile.
The achievement validates AST SpaceMobile’s vision and sets the stage for further advancements. The ongoing evaluation of BlueWalker 3 will focus on enabling 5G cellular broadband, a major test activity that will push the boundaries of space-based communications.
The recent achievements by AST SpaceMobile follow previous world-first announcements. In April 2023, the company successfully completed space-based voice calls using unmodified smartphones, also made possible through the BlueWalker 3 satellite.
2. Satellite cluster concerns
While the achievements of AST SpaceMobile are undoubtedly impressive, concerns have been raised about the increasing number of satellites in low Earth orbit. Astronomers, including Dr. Samantha Lawler from the University of Regina, have highlighted the potential risks of space debris and the threat of Kessler Syndrome. Proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978, the Kessler Syndrome states that the risk of satellite collisions rises as more satellites are launched into orbit.
As companies like AST SpaceMobile and SpaceX’s Starlink deploy more satellites, the accumulation of space junk poses a significant challenge for space exploration and observation, as well as potential hazards for Earth.
According to NASA, the current count of space debris in orbit exceeds 34,000, and this number is expected to further increase in the future. NASA emphasizes that even “even a tiny piece of orbital debris with a spacecraft could create big problems”, considering the rapid velocity of space debris at approximately 15,700 mph (25,266 km/h) in low Earth orbit.
The importance of addressing space junk and ensuring the sustainability of satellite constellations cannot be overstated. Collaboration among space agencies, companies, and regulatory bodies is essential to minimize the risks associated with the growing number of satellites in orbit. The need for responsible practices in satellite deployment and active debris removal strategies is becoming increasingly urgent.