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Satellite

AST SpaceMobile warns of possible launch delays

AST SpaceMobile, a startup that hopes to deliver cellular connections from space, warned that it might not be able to launch its newest satellite through SpaceX early next year, as it had previously planned.

However, company officials said any potential delay will only last a few months.

If AST SpaceMobile does decide to delay the launch of its newest satellite, the company said it will need to pay SpaceX a "rebooking" fee, though the company did not say how much that would cost. Company officials said they haven't yet decided whether they will need to delay the launch, but will need to decide by Wednesday of next week.

The development helps to underscore the difficulties faced by AST SpaceMobile and other companies in the burgeoning satellite industry. The sector has generated a massive amount of interest in recent years following efforts by SpaceX, Amazon and others to launch thousands of tiny satellites to provide space-based Internet connections and other services.

For its part, AST SpaceMobile hopes to eventually launch dozens of satellites that it plans to use to connect directly to existing smartphones. That setup, according to the company, could virtually eliminate all cellular dead zones by providing space-based signals to phones that travel outside of existing, terrestrial-based cellular coverage areas.

As AST SpaceMobile pursues this new technology, the company is working to launch another test satellite, BlueWalker 3 (BW3). The company had hoped to launch the satellite via a SpaceX rocket sometime between March and April of next year, but it warned last week that it might not be able to make SpaceX's December 1 deadline for confirming its cargo on that launch.

"At this time we believe it is likely that we may elect to do so [delay] to provide additional time for BW3 testing and final launch preparation," the company wrote in its quarterly financial filings. AST SpaceMobile added that it expects to spend a total of almost $70 million developing BW3.

If it misses the SpaceX launch, the company said it would be able to launch its satellite via another SpaceX mission or a launch from another rocket operator.

If AST SpaceMobile does launch another testing satellite, the company said it would then spend six months testing its services with mobile network operators across the Americas, Africa, Europe and Japan. AST SpaceMobile said it recently inked new commercial agreements with operators including MTN Group, YTL in Malaysia and Somcable in Somaliland. The company has previously disclosed agreements with the likes of AT&T, Vodafone and Rakuten.

AST SpaceMobile said its broader launch plans currently remain in place.

"We are also in the development and design process of our first constellation phase of 20 satellites," the company wrote in its most recent quarterly filing. "We are currently planning our first commercial satellite launches for the BB1 satellites to begin during the last quarter of 2022 and continue during the first two or potentially three quarters of 2023. This first phase of satellites is expected to provide satellite coverage in the 49 Equatorial countries, representing a total population of approximately 1.6 billion people, with 20 satellites. We currently plan to achieve full global mobile coverage after the completion of the launches required to deploy an additional 90 satellites which we are targeting to begin launching during the last quarter of 2023 and continue during 2024, assuming the first phase is successfully completed in the anticipated time frame."

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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