SpaceX Transporter-1 Launch January 24 (Source: SpaceX)

Upcoming SpaceX Transporter-4 launch could be heavy on cell phone service satellites

A preliminary manifest for the SpaceX Transporter-4 rideshare flight slated for March 2022 has come out, with “Cell tower in space” firms AST Space Mobile and Lynk along with IoT company OQ Technology listed on board. However, AST Space Mobile is now talking about moving its smaller-scale test satellite to a later flight.

OQ’s Tiger-3 will be the company’s second “cell tower in space” satellite, talking to NB-IoT devices on the ground in remote and rural areas. The company has a series of flights booked through launch broker Spaceflight. Tiger-2 was launched on the SpaceX Transporter-2 mission in June of this year.

“With our Tiger-1 and Tiger-2 missions already in orbit, we are now accelerating the deployment of our satellite network,” said Omar Qaise, founder and CEO of OQ Technology. “Tiger-3 will provide better access, increased capacity and shorter revisit times for our customers.  With every launch our satellite and telecommunication capability is improving and becoming more powerful. We will announce further launch missions with more advanced mission capabilities soon.”

Last month, OQ announced successful testing of its user terminal under various non-standard conditions, including within a vehicle and from a device in a building without either case employing an externally mounted antenna. Tiger-3 will be a hosted payload onboard NanoAvionics first MP42 satellite, a larger spacecraft than the cubesat form factors and designed for the industry-standard ESPA launch ring. One bonus to the larger MP42 satellite is its hardened electronics providing longer orbital life, with the satellite expected to operate in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for at least 5 years.

Both AST Space Mobile and Lynk plan to use satellites as true “cell towers in the sky,” enabling unmodified cell phones and IoT devices to directly communicate with cellular networks. AST Space Mobile’s Blue Walker 3 satellite is a 1.5 ton pathfinder satellite that includes a deployable 64 square meter phased-array antenna.  The company told investors it may delay launch of the satellite in April and look for a slot later in the year, with a final decision to be made by December 1.  Larger AST Space Mobile satellites could have deployable antennas as large as 900 square meters, according to the company’s FCC filings.

Lynk has secured launch slots onboard SpaceX’s Transporter-3 flight slated to take place in January 2022 as well as the March Transporter-4 launch. Each of its cellular satellites is designed to be a “pizza box” shape roughly one meter square and not requiring the complexity of deployable antennas or solar panels. The first generation Lynk satellites will relay SMS text messages and deliver cellular broadcast alerts. Lynk is licensed and plans to launch up to 10 satellites by the end of 2022, with commercial service availability expected to occur in mid-2022.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *