The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is opening a space-focused office. The new office, announced Thursday by the agency, will focus on regulating the tens of thousands of communications satellites companies plan to launch into orbit over the next decade. If the recent history of the satellite industry is any indication, this would be very difficult.
The FCC has long regulated communications infrastructure, including the wireless spectrum, but more recently it has issued licenses to companies such as SpaceX and OneWeb for new space internet services, or created rules to dictate when to go out. and have a larger role in satellite regulation. -of-service Satellite must be removed from orbit. Given these expanded responsibilities, it makes sense for the regulator to open a new agency focused on the space industry. After all, the massive effort to exploit low Earth orbit is well underway and presents a formidable regulatory challenge.
“The satellite industry is growing at a record pace, but on the ground the regulatory framework for satellite licensing has not kept pace,” FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement Thursday. “We are seeing new commercial models, new players and new technologies coming together to pioneer a wide range of new satellite services and space-based activities that require access to wireless radio waves,” she said.
Many think of the satellite industry, which now generates hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenue, as a service that provides television, radio, and Internet connectivity via satellites in orbit. But it all depends on what needs to happen here on Earth to ensure that these services actually work. It includes building rockets that can operate and operating ground equipment that satellites connect to. Now, thanks to the rapid expansion of commercial space activities, the satellite industry is also likely to grow further. In the past two years alone, there have been 64,000 new satellite applications, according to the Satellite Industry Association, according to the FCC, with a 20% increase in commercial satellite launches in 2021.
The FCC’s Space Agency, formed by reorganizing the FCC’s current international offices, is to lend a hand in regulation. Still, this new division faces significant challenges, including overseeing a handful of competing companies to launch huge constellations of satellites into orbit to deliver the next-generation internet. Satellite-based internet has been around for some time, but legacy technology is expensive and unstable. Instead of relying on a handful of older fixed satellites, this new group of companies hopes to use hundreds or even thousands of satellites in closer orbits. – Orbital satellites.
With FCC approval, SpaceX has already launched thousands of satellites into orbit as part of its Starlink internet platform. Starlink is available to some customers (the company serves the Ukrainian government). SpaceX is currently laying the groundwork to connect many cruise ships and planes. OneWeb is launching hundreds of satellites into orbit, Amazon is planning a space Internet service called Project Kuiper, and he may eventually include more than 3,000 satellites. As the FCC decides which satellites to approve and which companies to subsidize, it will almost certainly find itself in the middle of a heated debate between internet providers old and new.
To some extent, this has already happened. For example, Dish and Viasat recently filed a lawsuit aimed at overturning the FCC’s decision to approve the new SpaceX satellite. It should work in lower orbits. The companies said the new Starlink satellites would interfere with their services, a claim he was dismissed by a US Court of Appeals in August. The FCC recently rejected SpaceX’s application for nearly $1 billion in subsidies. It was offered to a company that promised to expand Internet access in rural areas. The FCC denied Starlink funding after deciding it wasn’t ready to offer the service, but SpaceX is now opposing the decision.
There are other hurdles. At Thursday’s event, Rosenworcel noted that the surge in space exploration means the FCC must also consider new types of technology, such as applications for lunar landers and space tugs. Other challenges are more logistical. A full space agency proposal would require working with Congress and other FCC commissioners, so the office may not open soon. But the new office will also need staff.
“One of the biggest challenges that the FCC’s Space Agency will likely face is its ability to recruit new staff at a rate that matches the unprecedented pace of growth of the commercial space sector,” said Senior Director of Satellite. says Therese Jones. The industry association told Recode. “We hope that the creation of the new bureau will attract further cosmic talent to its workforce.”
And while the FCC plays an active role in regulating the satellite industry, the United States is one of many governments around the world paying attention to the legal and economic issues raised by the commercialization of space. It’s not too much. For example, a French court in April revoked SpaceX’s license to provide internet services, citing monopoly concerns. Even within the United States, there are many other government agencies and regulatory agencies, such as the Space Force, Federal Aviation Administration, and NASA, all of which could be impacted by the increasing number of satellites.
Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said, “The existing responsibilities of the committee have increased the workload and the organization needs to be refreshed.” “But a continuing challenge is how the Commission and the new Space Agency will work with the White House to address the full range of national interests, including national security and public safety.”
Most importantly, these satellites can pose a real threat to the environment, both on Earth and in orbit. Astronomers are becoming increasingly concerned that satellite constellations can obscure the night sky and obscure the view of space. The Accountability Office (GAO) has asked the FCC to reconsider its current position on whether “licensing of large satellite constellations typically does not have significant impacts on the human environment.” The GAO noted that satellite rocket launches produce toxic emissions, and the satellites themselves could contribute to Earth’s worsening space debris problem.
It remains to be seen whether the creation of a new space agency will help the FCC juggle everything from the environmental impact of new satellite constellations to the regulatory aspects of the growing commercial space industry. But what is already clear is that there are no signs of slowing down when it comes to launching new communications satellites into orbit.