SpaceX, AST & Science Compete With NASA for “Space” In Orbit

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Some companies are working to move cell towers and fiber out of this world, choosing instead to deploy satellites in the Earth’s orbit to provide 4G and 5G connections on land. SpaceX and Texas-based startup AST & Science are two such companies with these ambitions, reported the Observer; however, NASA is speaking out with concerns.

NASA is gravely worried about the risk of these satellites colliding with other objects in Earth’s orbit and penned a letter on October 30. “With the increase in large constellation proposals to the FCC, NASA has concerns over the possibility of a significant increase in frequency of conjunction events,” the space agency’s letter stated.

The letter comes during AST & Science’s public comment period as it is petitioning the FCC to acquire radio spectrum permits, reported the Observer. AST plans to build a constellation of 243 satellites and has raised $110 million to fund the project, known as “SpaceMobile.”

In part, NASA is opposing SpaceMobile due to the size of the satellites and the proximity to NASA’s “A-Train” satellites. NASA said the AST plan poses an “unacceptably high risk” of collision in space and would require a great deal of work daily to prevent it. The Observer reported that each AST satellite would need large phased-array antennas that span 900 square meters to mitigate risk.

The space agency is also concerned with AST’s lack of experience. NASA estimates that up to 10 percent of the SpaceMobile satellites may fail, which would make them even more challenging to maneuver around.

Raymond Sedwick, chief scientist for space systems at AST, said that the company plans to work with NASA to address concerns. He said the company is poised to provide “clarification of AST’s constellation design that robustly manages orbital debris, keeping NASA and other orbital assets safe.”

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