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AST SpaceMobile unfolds communications array in orbit and prepares for direct-to-mobile device testing

  • 2 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 22 Nov 2022
  • Last modified 21 Nov 2022
Vodafone Group partner, AST SpaceMobile has successfully unfolded the communications array for its test satellite, BlueWalker 3 (BW3), in low Earth orbit.

AST SpaceMobile is building the first and only space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones. It is being designed to enable devices to switch automatically between space and ground-based networks, making it easier to connect customers in hard-to-reach areas and help eliminate coverage gaps.

In the coming months, AST SpaceMobile plans to connect ordinary, unmodified mobile phones from space through tests with mobile network operators including Vodafone.

Testing is planned for various locations across six continents, subject to regulatory approval, including in Kenya, East Africa where Vodafone operates through the Safaricom brand.

Luke Ibbetson, Head of Group Research and Development, Vodafone said: “We want to close coverage gaps in our markets, particularly in territories where terrain makes it extremely challenging to reach with a traditional ground-based network. Our partnership with AST - connecting satellite directly to conventional mobile devices - will help in our efforts to close the digital divide."

AST SpaceMobile successfully launched the BW3 test satellite into space on Saturday, 10 September from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Engineers made contact with BW3 less than an hour after take-off, confirming its trajectory.

BW3 is now the largest ever commercial communications array ever deployed in low Earth orbit. Now unfolded, the satellite’s array of antennas spans 693 square feet in size (about ¼ of a tennis court), a design feature that is critical to supporting a space-based cellular broadband network. The satellite is expected to have a field view of approximately 300,000 square miles on the Earth’s surface. By comparison, a typical mobile tower has a range of between one and three miles.  

The successful launch and unfolding of BW3 is the culmination of years of research and development, testing and operational preparation.

Vodafone is a lead investor in AST SpaceMobile and contributes technical, operational and regulatory expertise as part of its strategic partnership.

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