UK-based design house Ensilica is developing a chip that will enable a space-based cellular network, planned by AST SpaceMobile.
AST SpaceMobile aims to build a global cellular network in space, that will use unmodified mobile devices but will address the coverage gaps in terrestrial networks just as satellite does. Ensilica is designing an ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) to power the spacecraft electronics.
Ensilica’s business development chief Paul Morris told EETimes: “AST is putting a mobile base station in space … The key advantage is it works with any existing mobile, and you just need to buy a subscription to connect to their network. And people like Vodafone and others are partnering with them.” By contrast, LEOsat networks like Starlink connect first to cell towers, which then distribute subscriber communications.
The ASIC combines integrated RF design and signal processing. Its biggest challenge was to maximize efficiencies in power consumption and signal processing to make it viable for the AST satellite, which should launch next summer, to use solar cells.
Last year Ensilica announced it was developing a single-chip Ka-band transceiver chip for the European Space Agency, which will be incorporated into low cost automotive communication terminals, so that vehicles can be always-connected.