Astronomers worldwide ‘unsettled’ by new ‘cell phone tower in space’

A sprawling new satellite built to connect directly to surface cell phones is among the top 20 brightest objects in the night sky, according to astronomers who call it a threat to their work and humanity’s view of it. universe.

The offending orbital object is AST SpaceMobile’s Bluewalker 3, which launched on Sept. 10, but its 64-square-meter (693-square-foot) array of solar panels and antennas was just fully unfolded earlier this month.

The International Astronomical Union coordinated observations from around the planet, which found the satellite to be nearly as bright as stars such as Antares and Spica, the 15th and 16th brightest in the night sky, respectively. It’s not just Bluewalker 3 that worries astronomers, but rather the fact that it serves as a test model for a constellation of more than 100 so-called Bluebirds that the company plans to launch as part of its plan to build a network of satellites to 5G to provide connectivity from space.

“BlueWalker 3 is a major shift in the constellation satellite problem and should give us every reason to pause,” Piero Benvenuti, director of the IAU Center for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference, said in a statement.

Astronomers are more concerned about the potential impact of megaconstellations from thousands of satellites like SpaceX’s Starlink, but the IAU says AST SpaceMobile’s plans pose new problems because of the strong radio waves they will emit that could disrupt astronomical observations.

Philip Diamond, who directs the Square Kilometer Array Observatory in South Africa and Australia, is concerned that orbiting “cell towers” don’t have the same “quiet zone” restrictions that protect radio astronomers from interference from terrestrial cellular networks.

“Astronomers are building radio telescopes as far away from human activity as possible, looking for places on the planet where there is limited or no cell phone coverage,” said Diamond. “New satellites like BlueWalker 3 have the potential to exacerbate this situation and jeopardize our ability to do science if not properly constrained.”

The IAU notes that it has already started talks with AST SpaceMobile about possible mitigation measures.

The company did not immediately comment or comment.

AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan said in a statement earlier this month that the goal is to build a constellation that will eliminate mobile dead zones on Earth.

“Everyone should have the right to access mobile broadband no matter where they live or work. Our goal is to close the connectivity gaps that are negatively impacting billions of lives around the world.”

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