SpaceX launches one of its most complex missions ever

Abel Avalon, president and CEO of AST Spacemobile, said in a statement. This revolutionary technology supports our mission to bridge the connectivity gap faced by today’s more than 5 billion mobile customers and deliver mobile broadband to the nearly half of the world’s population that remains unconnected. We want to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.

The Bluewalker 3 Falcon 9’s payload rests in the canopy. The top of the Falcon 9 will fire two engines before launching the 3,300-pound (1.5 metric tons) Bluewalker 3 satellite to an altitude of about 318 miles (513 miles). kilometer). Bluewalker 3 is about to disconnect about 50 minutes after take off.

Two more engines in the upper tier of the Falcon 9 will launch the rocket into a slightly lower orbit so that 34 Starlink satellites can be deployed in about T+ plus 2 hours and 4 minutes. Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, 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’ve been doing this since 2017. These satellites are designed to communicate directly with cell phones, regular cell phones and unmodified phones on the ground and we will test them in the coming months.”

Bluewalker 3 antenna array during ground deployment testing. Credit: AST Spacemobile

In the first few months after launch, assuming Bluewalker 3 is running fine, the ground controllers will send commands to the spacecraft to launch their array of antennas. According to Wisniewski, the antenna consists of 148 separate sections, each of which has 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 a satellite into a cube and make it appear in two dimensions by using the energy stored in the hinges that hold it together. What it is exposed to is a set of antenna elements going down to the Earth, and the solar elements going up to the sun.”

“The key to any app is to make it as simple and secure as possible,” Wisniewski says. “What the James Webb Telescope has done is really extraordinary. But that level of complexity, in our view, creates the potential for error. And if you can avoid it, you will. Over the years, we’ve had a lot, there are more complex designs and there are going to be many great ways to do that. In the future, but in the end, a simple mechanical hinge is the best way to eliminate the risks.

“For us, the reveal…would be an important milestone,” Wisniewski said. “And then we’ll calibrate, and then we’ll start making phone calls.”

AST Spacemobile is backed by venture capital funds and investments from Vodafone, American Tower and Japanese mobile operator Rakuten. The company has 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 we can communicate with them,” Wisniewski said.

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

“This is part of our plan to build 168 satellites globally,” Wisniewski said.