AST SpaceMobile marks a major milestone toward satellite-to-smartphone 5G service

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An onboard view of the satellite captured after deploying the 693 square meter array.

AST Space Mobile

Satellite-to-smartphone connectivity company AST Space Mobile announced Monday that the wide antenna of its recently launched test satellite has been successfully deployed – a critical milestone in the company’s development of a global network to provide 5G broadband services.

Launched on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in September, the BlueWalker 3 satellite deployed its 693-square-foot antenna — which the company calls the largest array ever deployed to low Earth orbit.

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“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,” said Abel Avellan, Chairman and CEO of AST SpaceMobile in a statement.

A simulated view of the deployment of the BlueWalker 3 satellite antenna.

AST Space Mobile

The company is one of many contenders trying to create such a global service, an untapped market that has long been a dream for satellite communications.

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AST’s network would consist of a constellation of 168 satellites, and the company says it will achieve global coverage once about 110 are in orbit. BlueWalker 3 represents AST’s second test satellite to date, and it plans to begin deploying its operational BlueBird satellites late next year.

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The satellite company went public last year via a SPAC and has raised more than $600 million to date. AST has secured a number of mobile telecom partnerships for its service, including AT&TVodafone, Rakuten and more.

Chris Sambar, AT&T’s network president, said in a statement Monday that the company is “excited” that AST has reached “this important milestone.”

“By partnering with AST SpaceMobile, we believe there is an opportunity in the future to expand our network reach even further, including to otherwise remote and off-grid locations,” said Sambar.

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AST SpaceMobile shares fluctuated in heavy trading, closing down 9.5% at $7.99 per share. Shares of the company are stable this year as of Monday’s close.