Tech firm AST & Science has plans to build a satellite constellation which will be able to beam broadband connectivity to a cellular device. The company will be the first to do so by creating a stream of satellites in low-Earth orbit which beam the broadband to users here on Earth, much in the same way Elon Musk’s Starlink will work.
The satellite constellation will sit about 450 miles (720 kilometres) above Earth’s surface and will consist of more than 240 small satellites.
However, the SpaceMobile plans have been met with scepticism by major space players, especially NASA which has warned the project could increase the likelihood of collisions in the region of space above Earth.
As the satellites will take up a region covering about 900 square metres in space, NASA warned it creates major problems for space travel and future satellites.
The region surrounding Earth is already congested with more than 160 million pieces of ‘space junk’ floating in Earth’s orbit.
Not only does space junk pose a threat to technologies which rely on satellites, such as mobile phones, GPS, weather and television, but it can lead to something known as ‘Kessler syndrome’.
He proposed a scenario in which Earth’s orbit could become so congested that one satellite bumping into another could cause a cascading effect where more and more satellites are wiped out in a domino effect.
NASA is particularly concerned about the region AST & Science wants to operate in, as that is home to NASA’s A-Train – Earth observation satellites – is.
NASA raised its “substantial concerns” to the Communications Commission (FCC), penned by Samantha Fonder, NASA representative to the Commercial Space Transportation Interagency Group.
The letter said: “The AST constellation would be essentially collocated with the A-Train if the proposed orbit altitude is chosen.”
According to calculations from NASA, there would need to be 1,500 “mitigation actions,” or spacecraft manoeuvres, and 15,000 “planning activities” per year for A-Train if SpaceMobile is placed there.
The letter continued: “This is an orbit regime that has a large debris object density (resulting from the Fengyun 1-C ASAT test and the Iridium 33-COSMOS 2251 collision) and therefore experiences frequent conjunctions with debris objects.
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“It is imperative to the safety of the AST constellation and other assets in this regime that this constellation have a conjunction assessment (CA) and mitigation process of the same sophistication and risk aversion as the NASA satellites with which they will be collocated.”
NASA would like AST & Science to “consider alternative orbit regimes for this constellation, perhaps notably below the A-Train constellation, in order to allow for a more manageable safety-of-flight situation for a constellation of such large satellites.”
However, AST & Sciencce dismissed NASA’s worries, claiming enough research has been conducted to prove the satellites will be safe.
AST & Science founder Abel Avellan told Ars Technica: “We’re not a bunch of cowboys launching satellites.
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World news – US – NASA raises ‘substantial concerns’ over proposed satellite constellation