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Technology & Entrepreneurship

NASA Says Midland Company's Satellite Plan Could Cause Space Traffic Jams

A satellite dish operated by AST & Science located at the Midland International Air and Space Port.
A satellite dish operated by AST & Science located at the Midland International Air and Space Port.

From Texas Standard:

A Midland-based company has a plan to launch more than 200 very large satellites into low-Earth orbit. But NASA has a problem with that. When AST & Science asked the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, for permission to sell internet access for mobile phones via the satellites, the space agency – in a rare move – stepped in to object.

Eric Berger is senior space editor for the technology news site Ars Technica. He told Texas Standard that AST & Science doesn't have past space experience, though the company's founder has a background in satellites and technology.

"The company itself has never really built large satellites," Berger said.

He says the satellites AST wants to launch would collect 100 kilowatts of power. AST needs that power to deliver 4G internet access to phones on Earth from space without requiring a router or other form of connectivity.

"That is a very large solar array, even with very efficient solar panels," Berger said.

For context, he says the International Space Station, where several people live and work, collects a similar amount of power to function.

NASA is concerned about the company's lack of experience, and the possible risk of launching so many large satellites into close proximity to other objects in space.

"NASA has some very valuable assets where [AST] want to put these – at about 700 km above the Earth's surface," Berger said.

If a satellite fails or loses control, it could strike debris or other satellites.

AST says NASA has allowed other companies to launch large satellite constellations to provide mobile internet access, and that it should have the same opportunity to do so. Founder Abel Avellan told Berger, “We’re not a bunch of cowboys launching satellites."

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