Rakuten CEO_AST CEO high res
AST SpaceMobile founder Abel Avellan (right) and Mickey Mikitani, CEO of Rakuten, a company that participated in AST & Science's $110 million Series B round. Credit: AST SpaceMobile.

TAMPA, Fla. — AST SpaceMobile, which became a public company in April to develop a cellphone-compatible satellite broadband constellation, is expanding its leadership team.

The Texas-based company appointed Brian Heller as executive vice president, general counsel and secretary, and Scott Wisniewski as executive vice president and chief strategy officer.

Brian Heller, AST SpaceMobile EVP, general counsel and secretary. Credit: AST SpaceMobile

Heller has experience with two companies that were public before they were sold in 2019. He had served as general counsel of Castle Brands, a publicly traded spirits company before its sale to beverage giant Pernod Ricard.

He also served as senior vice president of business and legal affairs at Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services, which traded on the public market until being sold to private equity.

Wisniewski was previously managing director of technology, media and telecoms investment banking at Barclays, where he advised clients including AST SpaceMobile.

Barclays worked with AST SpaceMobile on its merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) New Providence Acquisition Corp. 

“Both of these executives bring extensive expertise to our company, including valuable public company experience,” AST SpaceMobile chair and CEO Abel Avellan said in a statement.

“They will complement our existing team of over 200 scientists and engineers, including 24 PhDs, as we seek to fulfill our mission to connect the unconnected by delivering cellular broadband to billions.”

The need to expand a company’s leadership team is an important part of the SPAC trend, which is catapulting at least a half dozen space startups to institutional financial markets. Public companies have to follow stricter regulations and disclose more regular financial information than private businesses.

Scott Wisniewski, AST SpaceMobile’s EVP and chief strategy officer.
Scott Wisniewski, AST SpaceMobile’s EVP and chief strategy officer.

AST SpaceMobile’s shares started trading April 7 on Nasdaq after successfully merging with New Providence Acquisition Corp., marking the first completed space SPAC transaction this year. Seven space SPACs have announced mergers since Virgin Galactic’s 2019 acquisition by Social Capital Hedosophia launched the current trend. Of those announced deals, six are slated to close in 2021.

Shares of AST SpaceMobile (ASTS) initially climbed to a $22.50 close Feb. 9 but have been trending down since, closing May 3 at $8.17.

By completing its SPAC merger ahead of others, the company appears to have largely escaped the disruption that changing accounting guidance is causing other space companies looking to go public.

AST SpaceMobile raised about $462 million through its SPAC deal, which it is using to accelerate the deployment of its constellation. The company plans to build and launch the first phase of 20 production satellites by early 2023.

That would enable it to provide services to equatorial regions, covering 1.6 billion people.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...