ERIC BERGER 11/3/2020
NASA has formally commented (PDF) on a request by a US company to build a mega-constellation of satellites at an altitude of 720km above the Earth’s surface, citing concerns about collisions. This appears to be the first time that NASA has publicly commented on such an application for market access, which is pending before the Federal Communications Commission.
“NASA submits this letter during the public comment period for the purpose of providing a better understanding of NASA’s concerns with respect to its assets on-orbit, to further mitigate the risks of collisions for the mutual benefit of all involved,” wrote Samantha Fonder, an engineer for the space agency.
At issue are plans put forth by AST & Science, which intends to build a constellation of more than 240 large satellites, essentially deploying “cell towers” in space to provide 4G and possibly 5G broadband connection directly to cell phones on Earth. The company, based in Midland, Texas, calls its constellation “SpaceMobile” and has raised an estimated $120 million.
The space agency felt compelled to comment on AST’s proposal for several reasons. Most notably, the proposed altitude for the SpaceMobile constellation lies near the “A-Train,” a group of 10 Earth-science monitoring satellites operated by NASA and the US Geological Survey, as well as partners in France and Japan. “Historical experience with the A-Train constellation has shown that this particular region of space tends to produce a large number of conjunctions between space objects,” the NASA letter states.