SpaceX blast off launches first satellite-to-smartphone signal from space

SpaceX’s latest Falcon 9 rocket mission brought its first set of Starlink satellites capable of transmitting a signal from space directly to your smartphone.

The Falcon 9 successfully launched a total of 21 satellites to low-Earth orbit from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, January 2nd just before 8:00 p.m. PST.

Six of those satellites have been equipped with an advanced modem that acts as a cellphone tower in space allowing Direct to Cell capabilities.

T-Mobile will be the first wireless provider in the US to launch the new “Coverage Above and Beyond” service.

Once in orbit, the satellites are said to have immediately connected “over laser backhaul to the Starlink constellation to provide global connectivity,” SpaceX said.

The Starlink coverage is expected to kick in when the smartphone user enters a mobile dead zone, similar to a roaming function.

Other major global network providers that will piggyback on the Starlink Direct to Cell service include telcos Optus in Australia, Rogers Communications in Canada, KDDI in Japan, One NZ in New Zealand, Salt in Switzerland, and Entel in Chile and Peru.

The T-Mobile collaboration was originally announced in August of 2022, as a way to provide low cost cellular coverage in remote locations previously unreachable by traditional cell signals due to land-use restrictions, terrain limits, and America’s sheer vastness.

According to SpaceX, well over half a million square miles of the US, in addition to vast stretches of ocean, are untouched by cell signals from any provider, forcing cell phone users to either lose their signal or “pay exorbitant rates to lug around a sat phone.”

SpaceX T-Mobile satellite launch2
T-Mobile CEO and President Mike Sievert and SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk at an event announcing the direct satellite-to-cell service. Starbase, Texas, 2023. Image by T-Mobile.

Tuesday's Starlink mission was the Falcon's 285th flight, according to SpaceX.

The 229 foot tall rocket is the world’s first orbital class reusable rocket designed for the safe transport of people and payloads into Earth orbit and beyond, according to the SpaceX website.

SpaceX is targeting to launch the Falcon 9 again for another mission – the Ovzon 3 mission – within the next 24 hours from Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida to a geosynchronous transfer orbit (an altitude of 22,236 miles from the Earth's equator).