FCC to consider streamlining process for authorizing small satellite operations

satellite tower (Pixabay)
Next-generation satellites are bringing new competition to the broadband market and new opportunities for rural Americans, which is why Chairman Pai has urged the FCC to move quickly on innovative satellite proposals. (Image: Pixabay)

Big satellite constellations are being proposed that use lots of smaller satellites, and the FCC chairman wants to streamline the process for authorizing these types of operations.

The FCC will consider at its April 17 open meeting a proposal by Chairman Ajit Pai that would tweak the regulatory review process to reflect the popularity of these smaller satellites. Under his proposal, if satellites or systems have certain characteristics, such as short orbital lifetimes, they could choose to file under a new, alternative small-satellite process. 

“This process would be less burdensome in some respects, while still addressing important issues such as using spectrum efficiently and limiting orbital debris (if you saw Gravity, you know what I’m talking about),” Pai explained in a blog post

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RELATED: 3GPP work progressing to incorporate satellite industry in 5G

The FCC appears to have plenty of satellite constellations brewing in the pipeline. Of course, a lot of satellite companies are vying for the same spectrum that terrestrial players want. Two years ago, then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler strongly urged the satellite industry to work with the mobile industry on realistic ideas for sharing spectrum and coexistence between satellite and mobile in the available spectrum bands.

Earlier this month, Pai told the satellite industry that their contributions don’t always get the attention they deserve, but next-generation satellites are bringing new competition to the broadband market and new opportunities for rural Americans. That’s why the FCC under Pia's leadership has moved quickly to give a green light to satellite innovators.

Last month, Pai said he would like the agency to approve an application by Space Exploration Holdings, doing business as SpaceX, to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis. If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.

RELATED: ViaSat, Intelsat, OneWeb cite access to spectrum as big concern

OneWeb sort of kicked things off when it applied for and received permission from the FCC last year to deploy a global network of 720 low Earth orbit satellites using the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) frequency bands to provide global internet connectivity. The FCC also approved plans by Telesat and Space Norway to move forward.

SpaceNews reported last week that OneWeb has asked the FCC for permission to launch another 1,260 satellites, bringing the total number to 1,980 spacecraft. 

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