The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on November 3rd it plans to open a new bureau specifically devoted to space with a focus on regulating tens of thousands of communications satellites that will be launched into orbit over coming decade
Agency chair Jessica Rosenworcel says the (FCC) plans to create the new space bureau to address the growing number of satellite launches and associated policy issues.
It makes sense that regulators would open a new bureau focused on the space industry given the expanded responsibilities. The huge effort to capitalise on low-Earth orbit continues apace, presenting an extraordinary regulatory challenge.
“The satellite industry is growing at a record pace, but here on the ground our regulatory frameworks for licensing them have not kept up,”
“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 need access to wireless airwaves.” Rosenworcel said on Thursday.
According to Rosenworcel the space agency has received 64,000 satellite application over the previous two years, in addition to the US$10 billion (A$16 billion) investment in space last year by private firms.
“A new space age is here. Unlike the first space age, this one is not limited to the prowess of our political superpowers.” she said.
Satellite services, which bring in hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenue, are thought of as providing television, radio, and internet connections via satellites in orbit. However, it all depends on things that need to happen on Earth to ensure the satellite services work correctly including:
- Manufacturing the new satellites
- Building new rockets that can launch them into space.
- Addressing policy issues.
According to the Satellite Industry Association, commercial satellite launches increased by 20 percent in 2021, and the FCC says it received 64,000 applications for new satellites in the past two years.
Rosenworcel also pointed out that in 2021 the FCC saw an increase in applications for fixed satellite service gateway earth stations and is getting applications for “novel space activities like lunar landers and space tugs with the ability to deploy other satellites,
Senior director of policy at the Satellite Industry Association, Therese Jones says one of the biggest challenges that the FCC’s Space Bureau is likely to face is the ability to onboard new staff at a rate that matches the unprecedented pace of growth in the commercial space sector.
“We hope that the creation of the new Bureau will attract additional space talent to its workforce.” says Jones.
In September, the FCC adopted new rules to address the growing risk of orbital debris to space exploration by reducing the time required to remove defunct satellites.
With approximately 10,000 satellites launched into space since 1957 more than half are now no more than orbital garbage
The FCC says discarded rocket cores, and other debris filling the space environment are creating challenges for current and future missions.