Astra Space joins the high-speed satellite Internet race

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Astra Space team members prepare a rocket for an attempted launch in Alaska. (Photo from Astra Space)

Make room for another competitor in the market to provide high speed internet access from low earth orbit: Astra Space, the company that was released to the public with the help of Seattle-area telecommunications pioneer Craig McCaw, is asking the Federal Communications Commission for permission to launch up to 13,620 bit-beam satellites.

In today’s filing, a subsidiary known as Astra Space Platform Services, said its V-band constellation “will bring new opportunities for reliable, high-speed communication services to certain business, government and institutional users and partners in the world. whole world”.

Astra, based in California, is best known as a start-up company. Last December he sent a test rocket into space from a launch pad on Kodiak Island in Alaska and barely failed to reach orbit. Another orbital launch attempt is planned for from this month.

Astra said its satellites will be built in-house and will be launched on Astra’s own rockets. The satellites would be sent to orbital altitudes ranging from 236 to 435 miles (380 to 700 kilometers) and would be equipped with propulsion systems to help avoid collisions and post-operational desorbing.

Potential applications of Astra’s broadband connectivity would include communications services, environmental and natural resource applications, and national security missions.

“Given the funding obtained through its recent public offering, its vertically integrated launch capability and its experience in the design and operation of space systems, Astra is well positioned to develop this project and introduce new space services, including including communication solutions, while maintaining a secure environment. space environment, using the spectrum efficiently and without causing harmful radio interference, ”the company said.

Astra made around $ 500 million in cash by merging with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, led by McCaw and based in Kirkland, Wash. McCaw’s blank check company, Holicity, was in turn backed by a sponsorship fund. called Pendrell Corp. which counts Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates among its investors.

The combined company, valued at more than $ 2 billion, went public in July. Astra’s share price was $ 12.30 when it debuted on the Nasdaq stock exchange, and today’s trading session closes at $ 9.85.

We’ve reached out to Astra and will update this report with whatever we hear.

McCaw, who now serves Astra’s board of directors, pioneer of cellular telecommunications service in the 1980s and early 1990s at McCaw Cellular. The Seattle area company was acquired by AT&T in 1994 in a deal that made McCaw a billionaire. In the late 1990s, McCaw was one of the investors (along with Gates) in Teledetic, an unsuccessful effort to provide satellite telecommunications service.

When the Astra SPAC deal was announced in February, McCaw told investors he had long believed there was “an incredible opportunity to provide communications satellites, essentially an Internet in the sky, with the ability to provide Internet anywhere and everywhere “. He pointed to SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellations as evidence that such a vision was within reach.

SpaceX is currently leading the race for satellite broadband, with limited service provided through a constellation of more than 1,600 low Earth orbit satellites. This week, Amazon requested permission to launch its first prototype satellites next year. Anglo-Indian company OneWeb has 358 satellites in orbit and plans to start offering services in arctic regions this winter.

Also this week, Boeing obtained FCC clearance for a constellation of 147 satellites that are expected to be fully deployed by 2030.

Like Astra, Boeing plans to operate on V-band frequencies, as opposed to the Ku and Ka bands targeted by SpaceX and Amazon. Unlike Astra, Boeing was able to get its proposal approved in the first FCC licensing round for non-geostationary satellite orbital services. This means Astra’s claim will need to be considered in the second FCC review cycle, along with other LEO satellite applications filed today by Telesat, Hugues, Inmarsat and other businesses.



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