World's largest communications satellite beams 4G data straight to cell phones

BlueWalker 3 is also one of the brightest objects in low Earth orbit, causing concern among astronomers.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of BlueWalker 3.
An artist's impression of BlueWalker 3.

AST SpaceMobile / Twitter 

Texas-based AST SpaceMobile successfully tested the world's largest communications satellite, BlueWalker 3, by beaming 4G signals to smartphones, a press statement reveals.

BlueWalker 3, which essentially acts as a space-based cellular tower, is designed to eventually send data at 5G speeds. Due to its massive size, it has caused concern among the astronomical community, with some noting that it is as bright as a star in the night sky.

AST SpaceMobile's BlueWalker 3 passes key test

Earlier this week, Wednesday, June 21, AST SpaceMobile announced that its engineers carried out a series of tests of the BlueWalker 3 satellite in June. They beamed data down to regular cell phones on Earth at speeds above 10 Mbps.

The satellite, which has caused controversy due to the fact its size could block astronomical observations, uses AT&T spectrum and Nokia RAN technology. The next step for AST SpaceMobile will be to test the satellite at 5G speeds.

"Achieving this milestone from an unmodified, standard cell phone on the ground connecting through our low Earth orbit satellite is another groundbreaking moment in telecommunications history," Abel Avellan, AST SpaceMobile Chairman and CEO said in the company's statement.

The BlueWalker 3 satellite was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in September last year and it was deployed in November. The 693-square-foot (64 square meters) array caused concern around its launch date when Connie Walker, an astronomer at the National Science Foundation's (NSF) NOIRLab, warned that it would be as bright as the star Vega near zenith in twilight.

In April, AST SpaceMobile used BlueWalker 3 to route an audio call between two smartphones, one of which was in Texas and the other in Japan.

Concerns over AST SpaceMobile's massive satellite

AST SpaceMobile's ultimate goal is to create the first space-based cellular broadband network that beams data directly to cell phones. Other companies, including Lynk Global, also have the same goal. Lynk Global recently deployed three satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO). AST SpaceMobile, however, will be encouraged by the recent tests that it has a good chance of becoming the first to provide the service.

BlueWalker 3 is a prototype test satellite designed to test AST SpaceMobile's technology. The company aims to eventually send a constellation of 100 satellites, called BlueBirds, to orbit starting in late 2024.

World's largest communications satellite beams 4G data straight to cell phones
BlueWalker 3 before it was deployed.

Several astronomers have flagged the rise in the number of satellites in LEO as a concern. In an interview with IE last year, for example, University of Regina astronomer Dr. Samantha Lawler discussed the massive amount of Starlink satellites SpaceX is lifting into space.

Lawler highlighted the concern that Starlink could contribute to the growing problem of space debris, which already has us on the brink of a potentially catastrophic scenario known as Kessler Syndrome.

We are "right on the edge" of Kessler Syndrome, Lawler explained. If it does happen, it would feel like we were "inside a snow globe within a couple of hours of sunrise or sunset," and any efforts to fix the problem would be akin to "collecting bullets." NASA, meanwhile, has also warned that satellites could impede its ability to detect potentially hazardous asteroids headed toward Earth.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board