SpaceX launches one of its most complex missions ever

Abel Avalon, president and CEO of AST Spacemobile, said in a statement. This breakthrough technology supports our mission to close the connectivity gap faced by today’s more than 5 billion mobile customers and bring mobile broadband to nearly half of the world’s population who are still not connected. We want to close the gap between rich and poor.

The Bluewalker 3 Falcon 9 payload is in the canopy. The top of the Falcon 9 will fire two engines before launching the Bluewalker 3 satellite about 3,300 pounds (1.5 metric tons) to an altitude of about 318 miles (513 mi). kilometer). Bluewalker 3 is about to disconnect about 50 minutes after liftoff.

Two more engines in Falcon 9’s upper tier will launch the rocket into a slightly lower orbit so that all 34 Starlink satellites can be deployed in about T+ plus 2 hours and 4 minutes. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said Saturday night’s launch would be “one of our most complex missions.”

“Bluewalker 3 will be the largest commercial communications suite ever built in low Earth orbit,” said Scott Wisniewski, Chief Strategy Officer, AST Spacemobile. It measures 693 square feet and is designed to test live mobile broadband engineering.

“We are a company founded on the desire to build mobile broadband directly from space,” Wisniewski said. “We have been doing this since 2017. These satellites are designed to communicate directly with mobile phones, regular cell phones and unmodified phones on the ground and we will be testing them in the coming months.”

Bluewalker 3 antenna array during a ground propagation test. credit: AST Spacemobile

In the first few months after launch, assuming Bluewalker 3 is working well, ground controllers will send commands to the spacecraft to launch its antenna array. According to Wisniewski, the antenna consists of 148 separate sections, each with its own antenna element, connected by mechanical hinges.

“The identification process itself is very simple,” Wisniewski said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “Essentially, we compress the satellite into a cube and make it appear two-dimensional using the energy stored in the hinges that hold it together. What’s exposed is a bunch of antenna elements going down towards the Earth, and the solar elements going up towards the Sun.

“The key to any implementation is to make it as simple and foolproof as possible,” says Wisniewski. “What the James Webb Telescope has done is truly extraordinary. But this level of complexity, in our view, creates the potential for error. And if you can avoid it, you will. Over the years we have had many more complicated designs and there will be many ways to do this in the future. But in the end, a simple mechanical hinge is the best way to eliminate the risk.

“For us, disclosure … will be a big step,” Wisniewski said. “And then we’ll do the calibration, and then we’ll start making phone calls.”

AST Spacemobile is backed by venture capital funds and investments from Vodafone, mobile tower operator American Tower and Japanese mobile operator Rakuten. The company has entered into agreements with Samsung, Nokia and mobile operators such as Vodafone, AT&T and Orange to test the compatibility of satellite cellular networks with existing mobile phones.

Bluewalker 3 will showcase SpaceMobile’s AST technology with more than 10 mobile network operators on six continents. “Our goal is to calibrate their network so that we can communicate with them,” Wisniewski said.

If all goes well, the company plans to launch its first five operational satellites by the end of 2023, possibly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. AST Spacemobile plans to eventually deploy 168 satellites.

“It’s part of our plan to build 168 satellites around the world,” Wisniewski said.

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