TAMPA, Fla. Supply chain issues have delayed the launch of the first operational satellite in AST SpaceMobile’s mobile-capable broadband constellation by about six months to late 2023.
The Texas-based company said on Aug. 15 that its first five satellites, which will now launch aboard the same SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will also be 50% smaller than initially planned to avoid further delays to commercial services.
They will leverage existing components used for the constellation BlueWalker 3 prototype to accelerate production, said Sean Wallace, chief financial officer of AST SpaceMobile during the company’s financial results.
This includes “certain components of integrated circuits, navigation controls and antennas.”
In a regulatory filing, AST SpaceMobile said it expects these first satellites to be “of similar size and weight” to the 1,500-pound BlueWalker 3 prototype. BlueWalker 3, expected to launch next month, has a 64-square-foot phased array antenna for testing communications with smartphones and other devices with broadband speeds.
While the original BlueBirds would have “design improvements” over BlueWalker 3 “for improved power efficiency and throughput designed to increase capacity,” it’s unclear how their smaller size will affect planned performance and coverage.
The company expects future generations of BlueBirds to “achieve greater throughput” by taking advantage of technology advancements and larger antennas.
AST SpaceMobile had previously planned to deploy 20 full-size BlueBirds in the first two or three quarters of 2023.
AST SpaceMobile said the first five BlueBirds would also use flexible chips that can be reprogrammed after they’re created, while later satellites will migrate to application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to increase production efficiency.
“We benefit from this change in the mix of satellites, as it will allow AST to build and launch the satellites earlier,” Wallace said.
“But this will also result in an increase in costs per satellite due to the current higher cost of these first-generation components.”
He said projected costs for AST SpaceMobile’s first 20 BlueBirds rose “just over 14%” to $16 million per satellite, as inflation and rising supply chain prices also take their toll.
AST SpaceMobile, which listed shares on the Nasdaq stock exchange in April 2021 following a merger with a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC), said it has sufficient funding to cover operations over the next 12 months, despite rising costs. .
The company reported $35 million in operating expenses in the second quarter of 2022 and had $202 million in cash reserves at the end of June.
According to the company, the first five BlueBird satellites in low Earth orbit would allow certain countries to generate revenue from a “limited, non-continuous” service.
However, Wallace said AST SpaceMobile will need to raise additional capital to deploy the 20 satellites it needs for the first phase of planned commercial services around the equatorial region.
The company has not released an update on the deployment plan for the rest of the constellation.
Previously, AST SpaceMobile has outlined plans to deploy 110 satellites by the end of 2024 to achieve “substantial global” mobile coverage. It also has an agreement with SpaceX that provides a framework for ordering additional launches through the end of 2024.
AST SpaceMobile said on Aug. 9 that BlueWalker 3 had arrived in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a launch on a Falcon 9 with other passengers in early to mid-September.
In November, SpaceX will launch two more satellites to power up Lynk Global’s mobile-compatible broadband network.
The Virginia-based startup expects to launch its first commercial services before the end of this year — if it can get a ride for a fourth operational satellite.
This article was edited Aug. 17 to detail the past expectations of AST SpaceMobile’s constellation deployment.