Astra files FCC application for 13,600-satellite constellation

Space

WASHINGTON — Small launch vehicle developer Astra Space filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission Nov. 4 to deploy a constellation of more than 13,600 satellites that would provide broadband services.

The constellation, Astra said, would provide services at V-band frequencies, with the 13,620 satellites deployed into low Earth orbit in three phases to provide global coverage. The satellite could use other frequencies as well, the company noted, but those services are not included in this application.

“The Astra Constellation will provide global secure, high-bandwidth connectivity to enable communications services, environmental and natural resource applications, and national security missions,” the company said in its application. “Given the financing secured through its recent public offering, vertically integrated launch capability, and space systems design and operations experience, Astra is well-positioned to develop this project and to introduce new space-based services, including communications solutions, while maintaining a safe space environment, utilizing spectrum efficiently and without causing harmful radiofrequency interference.”

The first phase of the constellation would involve a single plane of 40 satellites in an equatorial orbit at an altitude of 700 kilometers. “This Phase is designed to allow Astra to introduce continuous service in a test market as soon as possible, learn from initial operations and customer feedback, and iteratively improve all elements of the service to better meet customer needs,” the company stated.

A second phase would launch 2,296 satellites into sun-synchronous and mid-inclination orbits at altitudes of 690 to 700 kilometers. That would allow the company to provide global service. A third phase, with 11,284 satellites, would operate in orbits from 380 to 400 kilometers to provide additional capacity.

Each satellite will have a “novel” phased-array antenna with an effective aperture of 20 centimeters along with two gimbaled parabolic antennas. The spacecraft will be equipped with electric propulsion systems for maneuvering and deorbiting. Astra acquired Apollo Fusion, a developer of electric propulsion systems for satellites, earlier this year.

The application did not disclose the size of the satellites, but noted that the satellites, which will be built in-house by Astra, can be launched at least two at a time on the company’s rockets. The payload of those rockets is slated to increase over the next several years, with a goal of 500 kilograms. Astra, though, did note it is “willing and able to utilize third party launch providers in part or in whole for Constellation deployment.”

Astra had not previously disclosed plans for a broadband satellite constellation. It did announce earlier this year that it would get into the satellite business, developing satellite buses designed for launch on its rockets that could carry a wide range of payloads for customers, but didn’t discuss any intent to develop its own constellation.

The filing was one of several that companies made with the FCC on Nov. 4, a deadline set by the FCC three months earlier for the latest processing round for V-band satellite systems. Hughes Network Systems, Inmarsat and Telesat also filed applications for V-band satellite constellations, but none anywhere near as large as what Astra proposed.

In the near term, Astra is gearing up for its next attempt to reach orbit with its Rocket 3.3 vehicle. The company tweeted Nov. 3 that the earliest launch opportunity for that rocket from its Kodiak Island, Alaska, site is Nov. 8, during a window that runs through Nov. 14.

The vehicle, called LV0007, will be Astra’s fourth attempt to reach orbit and the first since an Aug. 28 launch attempt. On that launch, one of five first-stage engines shut down within a second of liftoff, causing the vehicle to drift sideways for nearly 15 seconds before it depleted enough propellant that the thrust from the remaining engines could allow the rocket to ascend. The launch was terminated two minutes later around the time of reaching maximum dynamic pressure.

An investigation concluded that a quick-disconnect system for fuel lines malfunctioned, allowing fuel to leak through it and be ignited by engine exhaust. That created an “over-pressure event” that caused a fuel pump to turn off, shutting down an engine.

In addition to its upcoming launch, Astra is also scheduled to release its third quarter financial results Nov. 11.

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