Astra wants 13,620 broadband satellites

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Last week it was aerospace giant Boeing which received permission from the FCC to launch a broadband constellation of 147 satellites. California-based Astra Space has gone much better. It applied to the FCC on November 4th to “ultimately” launch 13,620 satellites.

But Astra and Boeing are not alone. The FCC has received fresh requests from Telesat of Canada, Hughes Network Systems (which is a sister company of EchoStar) for their own planned constellations and an additional application from Jeff Bezos to add extra satellites to his Kuiper system.

Telesat wants to overlay its Lightspeed batch of 298 satellites with another 1373 satellites operating in the V-band.

Hughes Network Systems has filed a similar request to the FCC to build a LEO broadband constellation with 1,440 satellites in 36 low Earth orbiting planes, also in V-band.

The Astra package would – like Boeing – be for usage in the V-band.

Astra is a public company (quoted on the Nasdaq exchange) and based in Alameda, California. Formed some 5 years ago it is backed by some powerful investors including Airbus Ventures, BlackRock and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. The business went public in July 2021.

Up until now it has focused – not always successfully – on building and launching rockets. Astra’s mission is to “Improve Life on Earth from Space” by creating a healthier and more connected planet.

Its plan for its Astra Constellation talks about it “providing global secure, high-bandwidth connectivity to enable communications services, environmental and natural resource applications, and national security missions”.

It wants FCC permission to launch in three phases: The Initial Deployment phase of the Astra Constellation will feature a single equatorial plane comprised of 40 test satellites operating at 700km altitude, permitting certain early services to be offered in targeted locations. A second phase of 2,296 additional satellites distributed in a set of 56 mid-inclination planes at 700 km and 14 Sun Synchronous Orbital planes at 690 km will permit global broadband services to customers located in all latitudes. A third phase will densify the constellation and enhance service capabilities globally with as many as 11,284 further satellites at two mid-inclination altitudes (390 km and 400 km).

Astra says it will build the satellites itself in-house and employ its own rockets for launching.

While it is early days it is likely that there will be a slew of objections from the likes of Elon Musk Jeff Bezos, Telesat, Boeing, Hughes Network, Inmarsat and others.


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