Texas-based satellite company, AST SpaceMobile, is preparing to launch a series of five satellites that will initiate its satellite-based cellular broadband internet service accessible directly through smartphones. The company has made last-minute changes to its deployment strategy in order to improve satellite coverage. Despite these changes, the launch timeline, set for the first quarter of 2024, is still expected to remain on schedule.
AST SpaceMobile has paid an additional $5 million to SpaceX, the launch provider, to implement these changes. SpaceX will deploy the BlueBird satellites into the lower Earth orbit (LEO) using its Falcon 9 rocket. The satellites will be positioned at a higher inclination of 53 degrees in the orbit, allowing for coverage in a region between 59 degrees north and 59 degrees south of the hemisphere.
The five BlueBird satellites are anticipated to provide intermittent connectivity services. Once AST SpaceMobile collects sufficient data and confirms the system’s efficiency, additional satellites are expected to follow. The BlueBird satellites weigh approximately 1,500 kg, similar to the company’s BlueWalker 3 satellites. AST SpaceMobile is also in discussions to acquire commercial satellites that can weigh up to 50 percent more than the current models.
AST SpaceMobile’s CEO, Abel Avellan, has expressed that approximately 90 BlueBird satellites in the lower Earth orbit will be necessary to support the company’s planned 5G services, which will include voice and data plans. The company has agreements and understandings with over 35 mobile network operators globally, representing approximately 2 billion existing subscribers.
The company has shown interest in providing its services in India, specifically through its partnership with Vodafone, a major mobile carrier in the country.