NASA has officially commented on a U.S. company’s request to build a large satellite constellation 720 kilometers above the Earth’s surface,media reported. This appears to be the first time NASA has commented publicly on such a market access application, which is currently awaiting approval by the FCC.
NASA engineer Samantha Fonder wrote: “NASA submitted this letter during the public comment period in order to better understand NASA’s concerns about its in-orbit assets and thus further reduce the risk of collisions in order to achieve the common interests of all parties.” “
It is understood that the contention is over plans by AST and Science to build a constellation of more than 240 large satellites, essentially deploying “signal towers” in space — providing 4G or even 5G broadband connections directly to mobile phones on Earth. The Midland, Texas-based company says its constellation is SpaceMobile and has raised about $120 million for it.
For several reasons, the NSASA would not comment on the AST proposal. Most notably, SpaceMobile’s proposed height is located near A-Train. A-Train is a group of 10 Geoscience Monitoring Satellites operated by NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey and French and Japanese partners. “The historical experience of the A-Train constellation shows that this particular space region tends to create a large number of connections between space objects,” NASA wrote in the letter.
It is reported that these satellites are very large. In order to provide services, AST plans to build a spacecraft with a large phased array antenna – 900 square meters. According to NASA, when planning potential integration with other satellites and debris in the orbit, this would require a 30-meter “hard object radius” or 10 times larger than other satellites.
NASA says maneuvering around the proposed SpaceMobile constellation will be laborable.
Finally, NASA is concerned that AST has never built a satellite the size of a one-ton or larger carrier that will live in its constellation. In view of inexperiienced, it is expected that 10 per cent or more of the satellites may fail, making them unable to maneuver to avoid collisions. NASA found the risk of catastrophic collisions to be unethacceptable.
NASA is understood to have submitted the comments on October 30, which ended on Monday. Most of the other comments about the AST app showed a supportive attitude.
So why is this question before the FCC? Responsibility for U.S. space activities is spread across several federal agencies, and the FCC manages the spectrum. AST requires permission from this organization to enter the U.S. market and sell its services.
For giant satellites such as SpaceX’s Starlink and OneWeb, the FCC has been considering debris from sending hundreds of new satellites into low-Earth orbit. So the FCC’s direction on this issue will be intriguing because the federal agency faces two competing interests.
Overall, the FCC has been very forgiving in issuing spectrum licenses to satellite operators. “I don’t think the FCC would refuse such a permit,” said Brian Weeden, a satellite expert at Secure World Foundation. They try to be business-friendly and encourage businesses to do business in the United States. “
However, the FCC has been using its spectrum authority to consider regulations that would require satellite operators to protect the government from potential accidents and improve the mobility of its spacecraft to reduce debris generation. The comment period for the proposed rules, first published in April, ended last month. It’s unclear what the final rules will look like, but satellite operators say some of these ideas are too cumbersome.
Finally, it’s unclear how the FCC will handle NASA’s concerns, since it has a deep understanding of space and this is the first time it has spoken publicly.