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In 2024, SpaceX launches its first direct-to-smartphone satellite

After receiving a temporary experimental license to begin testing the capability in the US, SpaceX launched its first batch of Starlink satellites on January 2. The satellites are intended to connect directly to unmodified smartphones.

Launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 10:44 p.m. Eastern on a Falcon 9 rocket, six of the twenty-one Starlink satellites carry a payload that, according to the company, could provide connectivity for the majority of 4G LTE devices when in range.

In collaboration with cellular carriers, SpaceX intends to begin allowing texting from space this year. Voice and data connectivity will follow in 2025, though the company must first obtain regulatory approval before it can offer the services for sale.

T-Mobile, SpaceX’s mobile partner in the United States, would provide cellular spectrum for the first direct-to-smartphone tests. Additionally, mobile operators in Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, and Switzerland have partnered with SpaceX.

The first six “direct-to-cell” satellites, according to Kate Tice, senior manager for quality systems engineering at SpaceX, will be brighter than the fifteen Starlink V2 Mini broadband satellites that are joining the mission but lack the hardware to connect to smartphones. This was stated during the launch webcast.

Before making hardware changes to guarantee that its direct-to-cell spacecraft are as dim as possible, SpaceX intends to collaborate with astronomers to assess the impact on their observations, Tice continued.

SpaceX informed the Federal Communications Commission in November that it planned to launch 840 direct-to-cell satellites over the course of the next six months.

The company’s first direct-to-cell launch was supposed to occur in the middle of December, but it was postponed until 2024, when it became SpaceX’s 296th mission overall.

In addition, this was the first flight of the booster on the Falcon 9 mission, which was later landed for reuse in the Pacific Ocean on a drone ship shortly after takeoff.

At 11:47 p.m. Eastern, SpaceX declared that all 21 Starlink satellites had been launched by the Falcon 9.

SpaceX’s current constellation of low Earth orbit broadband satellites, which offers high-speed internet to customized fixed and mobile satellite user terminals, will have additional capacity thanks to the 15 Starlink V2 Mini satellites on the mission.

Early-stage companies Lynk Global and AST SpaceMobile are getting closer to agreements on funding to grow their specialized direct-to-device constellations.

AST SpaceMobile announced on January 2 that it plans to launch its first five commercial satellites on a Falcon 9 early this year and is looking to raise money this month from “multiple parties.”

Currently operating in parts of the Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, and Palau, Lynk Global offers low-bandwidth services, including intermittent texting, to phones outside of cellular networks. The company intends to raise money by merging with a shell company owned by Alex Rodriguez, a former professional baseball player.

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