A huge satellite to power cellular broadband will be launched on Saturday

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A test satellite designed to deliver broadband to smartphones is expected to launch tomorrow.

The BlueWalker 3 test satellite is from Texas-based AST SpaceMobile, which is working to build the first space-based broadband cellular network accessible by standard smartphones.

The technology promises to help mobile carriers deliver broadband at 4G/5G speeds to customers in cellular dead zones. AST SpaceMobile has already entered into partnerships with more than two dozen mobile operators who collectively serve more than 1.8 billion subscribers.

“Whether in the most remote places, on rural farmland, or in the midst of a crisis or natural disaster, people will stay connected no matter what, without having to invest in expensive specialized equipment” , the company said of its technology.

(Credit: AST SpaceMobile)

The size of the test satellite is also notable. Its communications network – which AST SpaceMobile says is the largest ever installed on a commercial satellite – covers an area of ​​64 square meters (693 square feet). According(Opens in a new window) For New Scientist, the satellite is so big that it could end up becoming the brightest man-made object in the sky, which could annoy astronomers.

The rear face of the satellite is covered with solar cells to collect energy. The other side is made up of antennas that can transmit data to phones on the ground. The result is essentially a cell tower in low Earth orbit in space that can receive cellphone signals from hundreds of miles away. The satellite can circle the planet every 90 minutes.

The company will begin testing the satellite’s ability to transmit communications signals once it is in orbit. “AST SpaceMobile plans to conduct direct BW3 cellphone testing on six continents, including North America,” the company said.(Opens in a new window). “Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the mission test plans include Vodafone, Rakuten Mobile and Orange, among others.”

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AST SpaceMobile says an experimental license from the FCC allows it to perform the tests in Texas and Hawaii. The company plans to eventually operate 110 satellites before the end of 2024, according to(Opens in a new window) at SpaceNews.

BlueWalker 3 is scheduled to launch into orbit Saturday at 9:10 p.m. EST with help from SpaceX, which is planning its own mobile satellite service through Starlink, the company’s satellite internet service. SpaceX plans to stream the launch on YouTube(Opens in a new window).

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