FCC grants AST SpaceMobile experimental license to test satellite

AST SpaceMobile has been granted an experimental license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct U.S.-based testing of its BlueWalker 3 satellite.

The company launched its first satellite in March 2019, and it plans to launch its second satellite, BlueWalker 3, this summer.

AST Space Mobile, based in Midland, Texas, plans to build the first space-based cellular broadband network designed to be accessible directly by standard mobile phones.

The new experimental license covers BlueWalker 3 space-to-ground testing in the United States using 3GPP low-band cellular frequencies and Q/V-band frequencies, subject to certain restrictions.

An AST spokesperson had previously told Fierce all pre-launch testing and integration are nearing completion. Once in orbit, the company will be testing in the U.S. as well as in Japan with Rakuten Mobile.

AST SpaceMobile Founder and CEO Abel Avellan said at the company’s fourth quarter 2021 earnings, “In our first year as a public company, we have achieved important technical milestones to position ourselves for the planned launch of BlueWalker 3, which will bring to a close our initial development phase. In parallel, we’ve advanced our production spacecraft design and procurement, made facility and human capital investments to support high-volume manufacturing capabilities and furthered our relationships with mobile network operators around the globe.”

AST SpaceMobile continues to pursue additional authorizations with the FCC related to its planned constellation of BlueBird satellites.

The company aims to close the digital divide and bring cellular broadband to approximately half of the world's population who remain unconnected. In addition to Rakuten Mobile, AST is also working with Vodafone and American Tower.

There are several companies now competing in the satellite space to bring broadband to unserved geographies, including SpaceX’s Starlink and AWS’ Project Kuiper. But the key thing that distinguishes AST is that its technology connects directly to the handset. End customers do not have to buy any additional equipment, have any special infrastructure installed or buy any special smartphones.