Tag Archive for: SpaceX

On May 10, AT&T submitted a regulatory request to lease wireless spectrum to AST SpaceMobile for the purpose of connecting smartphones in the United States to AST SpaceMobile’s planned satellite constellation. The agreement between the two companies includes the majority of AT&T’s low-band frequencies, which AST SpaceMobile intends to utilize to enhance AT&T’s coverage nationwide.

To enable wireless transmissions between smartphones and satellites, the companies require approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). AST SpaceMobile’s Chief Strategy Officer, Scott Wisniewski, mentioned that this authorization could be obtained through a permit for their spectrum leasing arrangement. Another possible avenue for approval is a rulemaking process proposed by the FCC called “Supplemental Coverage from Space,” which was put forward on March 17.

Both authorization approaches were discussed in a recent public hearing on this topic, with the FCC expressing encouragement for both methods. Ultimately, FCC approval will be crucial for AT&T and AST SpaceMobile to proceed with their plans to leverage satellite connectivity and address coverage gaps in the United States.

AST SpaceMobile has an additional request pending with the FCC seeking permission to transmit V-band frequencies from its proposed low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to gateways for backhaul purposes. This request is part of AST SpaceMobile’s broader plans to establish a comprehensive satellite communication network.

In collaboration with AT&T and Rakuten, a Japanese telecommunications company, AST SpaceMobile successfully conducted its first voice call on April 20 using an unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone and its BlueWalker 3 test satellite. The tests with BlueWalker 3 are ongoing, with the objective of demonstrating the satellite’s capability to provide communication services at speeds typically associated with 5G networks.

AST SpaceMobile intends to launch its initial five commercial satellites in the first quarter of 2024 using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. These satellites will be instrumental in the realization of AST SpaceMobile’s vision for a global satellite communication network, facilitating connectivity and communication services across various locations.

AST SpaceMobile’s Block 1 satellites, named after their development phase, are similar in size to the 1,500-kilogram BlueWalker 3 satellite. These Block 1 satellites are expected to be launched first. Following them, AST SpaceMobile plans to launch 20 larger Block 2 satellites later in 2024, which will be approximately 50% larger than those in Block 1.

AT&T has not provided specific details regarding the commercial deployment timeline for its partnership with AST SpaceMobile in the United States. However, AST SpaceMobile has indicated that the Block 2 satellites are necessary to provide coverage to the most commercially viable markets.

Lynk Global, a Virginia-based company that is also seeking authorization to offer direct-to-device commercial services in the US, has not disclosed its spectrum partner yet. SpaceX, on the other hand, announced last year that it would utilize spectrum from T-Mobile to enable direct connectivity between standard smartphones and its upgraded satellites in the low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation.

According to Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president for devices and services, the initial two prototype satellites of Project Kuiper are currently being transported to Cape Canaveral. He discussed this development during a keynote address at the Satellite 2023 show.

Limp expressed his anticipation for the upcoming satellite launch in May, stating that it will provide valuable insights and knowledge for the Kuiper team. He also highlighted the larger size of Project Kuiper’s satellites compared to others in the industry, which is attributed to their symmetric K-band architecture.

Furthermore, Limp revealed Amazon’s ambitious plan of manufacturing three to five satellites daily, aiming to swiftly expand and complete the constellation. He mentioned that satellite production will ramp up significantly in 2024, and by mid-2026, more than half of the constellation will be deployed.

Limp also emphasized that the Project Kuiper team is facing pressure from potential customers to expedite their progress. He asserted that Amazon possesses unique advantages that position it as a formidable competitor to existing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) players like SpaceX and OneWeb.

One of these advantages lies in Amazon’s extensive fiber infrastructure and its role in handling a significant amount of internet traffic. Limp explained that many of the workloads that Project Kuiper will handle are already situated within the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. As more workloads migrate to the cloud, they will be located in a data center, further leveraging Amazon’s capabilities.

Additionally, Limp highlighted the value of Amazon’s customer service organization, emphasizing its potential contribution to the emerging internet business associated with Project Kuiper.

Furthermore, Limp noted that Amazon’s renowned ability to control costs is another asset for Project Kuiper. He explained that they aim to apply the cost-control strategies employed in consumer electronics to the aerospace sector, rather than the other way around. Lowering the cost of customer-premise equipment is crucial for the viability of the business model, and Amazon has innovated to ensure that the cost of such equipment is significantly reduced.

Limp also unveiled a prototype of a compact Kuiper terminal, which he compared to the size of an LP record. This smaller model measures approximately 7 square inches and is expected to provide a throughput of up to 100 Mbps.

In addition, he presented a physical prototype of an enterprise-grade terminal specifically designed for enterprise, government, and telecommunications applications. This larger device measures 19 inches by 30 inches and is projected to offer speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.

Limp highlighted the significance of Amazon’s proprietary Prometheus baseband chip within the Kuiper architecture, emphasizing its role as a key element in their business model. The Prometheus chip is an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) that combines the functionalities of a 5G base station, a 5G smartphone modem, and a microwave backhaul antenna. Limp stated that leveraging this chip has allowed Amazon to develop equipment that costs only a fraction of what it would have if they had purchased it off the shelf.

Furthermore, Limp predicted that Amazon’s satellite-based internet service will cater to the needs of enterprises, government entities, and residential customers who currently lack access to reliable internet connectivity.

SpaceX has successfully launched what is believed to be the first 5G cellular standard satellite in low Earth orbit (LEO). The satellite, called Sateliot_0 or “The GroundBreaker,” weighs 22 pounds (10 kilograms) and will serve as an orbital data relay for a constellation of over 250 spacecraft. These satellites will communicate with terrestrial cell towers and address gaps in data networks worldwide. The GroundBreaker was launched using a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX’s facility in Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. Sateliot, the Barcelona-based company responsible for The GroundBreaker and the Sateliot_X constellation network operator, believes that this technology will enable global access to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Sateliot stated that it is leading a revolutionary change where cellular terrestrial telecom and satellite connectivity are seamlessly merging for the first time in history. The company aims to address an 85% gap in mobile connectivity across the globe and has a vision to apply its technology to various public and private markets, such as road, rail, air, and sea transportation, with the potential to increase the efficiency of numerous industries. Sateliot’s goal is to expand the possibilities of connected devices by connecting the IoT to a cohesive network between ground and orbital cellular relays. By doing so, the company aims to offer a seamless switch between terrestrial and non-terrestrial 5G networks without requiring additional hardware or modems. Sateliot intends to keep the existing sim cards and mobile operators of users with standard roaming agreements, which could facilitate worldwide massive adoption of the Internet of Things.

Sateliot_0 is the first satellite in a constellation that will grow in number, with each spacecraft orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes and covering an area three times the size of Texas. The company has reported sales of over $1.3 billion as its first satellite begins operating. Sateliot has yet to announce the launch date and vehicle for its next satellite, but on the company’s website, the “Next Mission” page suggests that the public should “stay tuned” while showing an image of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy liftoff in the background.

The number of mega-constellations being planned or developed is increasing. In addition to SpaceX’s well-known Starlink broadband satellites, the European Union and China have their own constellations in progress. Amazon, an online retailer and web services giant, also intends to launch its own constellation called Project Kuiper, beginning in 2024.

Maxar Technologies is finally preparing to launch its next-generation imaging satellites, WorldView Legion, this summer after experiencing years of delays. The first two high-resolution imaging satellites are ready to be launched into orbit using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Maxar plans to launch six WorldView Legions on three separate Falcon 9 rockets into sun-synchronous and mid-inclination orbits. The delays were caused by various setbacks, including hardware supplier issues, production shutdowns during the pandemic, a shortage of cargo aircraft, and the new technology within the Legion satellites. The company’s president and CEO, Daniel Jablonsky, stated that they have completed all the necessary preflight checks, finalized the flight software, and completed last-minute testing before the satellites are launched.

In the meantime, Maxar is in the process of finalizing a deal to be acquired by Advent International, a private equity firm. The acquisition was approved by Maxar’s shareholders on April 19 for $6.4 billion. The success of the Earth intelligence division of Maxar relies on the six-satellite Legion constellation, as it currently only has three legacy WorldView and one GeoEye optical imaging satellite.

Due to the increase in demand for imagery caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Maxar’s investors have approved the production of two additional WorldView Legion satellites. These satellites will be based on the same technology as the previous six but with some upgrades. Maxar will continue to upgrade the technology during the engineering cycle when opportunities for improvement are identified.

According to Jablonsky, Maxar is already ordering long-lead-time parts, particularly the optics packages, for the future Legion satellites. He also stated that there is a high demand for these satellites, and during the recent Space Symposium, the first question from every customer was about their availability.

Maxar is the primary supplier of commercial electro-optical imagery for the US government. In 2020, the company won a $3.2 billion contract from the National Reconnaissance Office to provide mapping services and imagery for the next ten years.

According to Jablonsky, both governments and commercial customers are increasingly relying on data from space to make decisions. The conflict in Ukraine has created a demand not only for optical imagery but also for other sensing technologies, such as synthetic aperture radar and radio-frequency mapping.

Maxar has been expanding into both the SAR and RF markets in recent months, including through partnerships with Umbra and Aurora Insight. The company’s acquisition strategy has been a key part of its business strategy, and it has added 3D imaging and machine-learning technologies to its portfolio with the acquisitions of Vricon and Wovenware. Jablonsky declined to comment on any upcoming acquisitions but said the company is always looking for opportunities to invest in new technologies and companies.