NASA concerned over new mega-constellation

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AST & Science is planning a mega-constellation of satellites, called SpaceMobile, to provide 2G/3G/4G/5G connectivity anywhere on the planet, including aircraft broadband connectivity.

Texas-based AST & Science (AST) has won investments from the likes of Vodafone and Japanese e-retailer Rakuten and bringing the amount raised to $128 million. Its first test-satellite will reportedly launch later in 2021.

Their plan is to launch up to 243 Low Earth Orbiting satellites (at about 720 kms high) and to deliver services “in the next few years” to standard mobile phones whether indoors or out.

But NASA has objected to the FCC and talks about “catastrophic risks” if the AST project goes ahead.

The problem is in the design of the satellites. Each of them will use massive antennas, measuring 900 sq metres (9700 sq ft) according to the FCC filing. The satellites will be placed, says NASA, in a “debris-rich orbit” and will thus create a large number of satellite conjunctions, in particular with NASA’s ‘A-Train’ suite of Earth observation operated in conjunction with the US Geological Survey and other international agencies.

NASA says AST’s orbits will create many mitigating movements and says that it expects 1,500 of these avoidance mitigations and 15,000 that might need an investigation. NASA says that this would equate to four manoeuvres actual and forty active planning activities per day. NASA is also worried about the number of AST satellites which might fail while in orbit, and thus not be controllable.

AST’s response is that their calculations show only one in 5,000 chance of collision.

NASA recommends that the FCC instruct AST to choose a series of lower orbits.


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