This month, a Texas startup will launch a satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 that will unfurl a massive array in low-Earth orbit designed to generate a cellular broadband signal that mobile phones will immediately connect to.
AST SpaceMobile will launch its BlueWalker 3 test satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral, along with another batch of Elon Musk's Starlink broadband satellites.
"Many of us still experience gaps in coverage as we live, work, and travel," AST SpaceMobile Chief Strategy Officer Scott Wisniewski said in a statement. "We want our efforts to significantly increase the availability of cellular broadband globally by providing a space-based network to existing, unmodified mobile phones."
The company holds a Federal Communications Commission experimental license that allows it to initially test its system in Texas and Hawaii.
Over 100 Bluebird satellites with arrays considerably bigger than those of the BlueWalker 3 test unit may make up the final constellation. The size of the company's initial set of operational satellites will, however, be trimmed, according to a recent announcement.
BlueWalker 3's enormous 693-square-foot (64-square-meter) solar array is a concern for astronomers. The business plans to launch over a hundred of its Bluebird final service satellites, which it thinks will be even bigger.
Numerous solar cells on one side of the array collect energy to power antennas on the opposing side, which can project "cells" of network coverage across specific areas of geography on the planet's surface. The system uses the geometry of low-Earth orbit to operate as the world's tallest cell phone tower.
Many people are enthusiastic about a booming industry in space-based cellular networks, but the satellite's debut comes at a time when astronomers are concerned about the influence of the new age of satellite mega-constellations on their scientific studies of the universe.
Skywatchers will be monitoring and recording BlueWalker 3's brightness in the coming months as the company tests the satellite's capacity to link to cell phones on the ground.
"Observers on the ground will see bright sunlight reflected from this structure," Sky and Telescope amateur astronomer Anthony Mallama wrote, asking astronomers to document the brightness of the satellite as it passes overhead.
AST SpaceMobile already has carrier contracts with Vodafone, Rakuten, and Orange. It also has a commercial agreement with AT&T.
AST SpaceMobile has not yet revealed which cellular spectrum bands it may offer, although they potentially span between 700-960MHz and 1600-2100MHz.
BlueWalker 3 is currently planned to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 10.