March 28, 2023

Dawson County Journal

Dawson County, Nebraska

Huge satellite outshines stars, troubling astronomers

A group of astronomers is speaking out about the impact of a large satellite designed to connect directly with mobile phones. 

In a Monday statement, the International Astronomical Union Center for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference (IAU) said that the AST SpaceMobile BlueWalker 3 prototype satellite is now one of the brightest objects in the night sky – outshining all but the brightest stars. 

In addition, the scientists warned that the use of terrestrial radio frequencies poses a “new challenge to radio astronomy.”

“BlueWalker 3 is a big shift in the constellation satellite issue and should give us all reason to pause,” Piero Benvenuti, the director of the IAU CPS, said in a statement.


The satellite, which serves as a “cell phone [tower] in space,” was launched into low Earth orbit in September and has a nearly 700-square-foot antenna system.

It will transmit strong radio waves at frequencies reserved for terrestrial cell phone communications. 

“These orbiting transmitters, which are not subject to the same radio quiet zone restrictions as ground-based cellular networks, have the potential to severely impact radio astronomy research as well as geodesy studies and space-physics experiments,” the IAU said, noting that it had recently penned a letter to the Federal Communications Commission calling on it to seriously consider the potential impacts of satellite constellations on astronomy, the appearance of the night sky and the environment.


AST SpaceMobile said that BW3 is the largest-ever commercial communications array deployed in low Earth orbit.

“AST SpaceMobile’s mission is to help solve the major global problem of lack of connectivity, which affects billions of people around the world. We are building the first and only space-based cellular broadband network — one that is designed to provide coverage to areas currently beyond the reach of today’s networks. Our planned network aims to connect devices around the world and support a universal good. Cellular broadband for more people globally would help ease poverty, support economic development, build a more equitable and diverse digital society and save lives,” a AST SpaceMobile spokesperson told Fox News Digital in a statement. 

The company said it was eager to use the newest technologies and strategies to mitigate possible impacts on astronomy. 

“We are actively working with industry experts on the latest innovations, including next-generation anti-reflective materials. We are also engaged with NASA and certain working groups within the astronomy community to participate in advanced industry solutions, including potential operational interventions,” it said. “As part of this work, AST SpaceMobile is committed to avoiding broadcasts inside or adjacent to the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) in the U.S. and additional radioastronomy locations that are not officially recognized, as required or needed. We also plan to place gateway antennas far away from the NRQZ and other radio-quiet zones that are important to astronomy.”

AST SpaceMobile plans to provide substantial coverage across the world with a network of 168 or fewer satellites.

This story has been updated with a comment from AST SpaceMobile

Source: Science