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FCC, ITU anxious over satellite constellations

Currently a would-be satellite operator has to make its application to place a satellite through an approved licensing process, usually via a national agency which then submits the application to the ITU where it is formally registered.

The FCC, for example, demands a returnable bond from applicants which is only repaid once the satellite is launched and brought into service. The ITU’s responsibility allocates filings on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, and a satellite operator is required to ‘use it or lose it’ and to launch its satellite promptly or else the filing lapses.

So far so good. But what happens with the growing number of giant constellations of satellites, of up to 4000 in one case, and where the FCC alone has more than a dozen applications for new constellations.

The dilemma revolves around the problem as to when a “constellation” can be deemed to have been brought into use. Is it with the first satellite launched, or when the constellation is completed?  If the launch of one is deemed adequate, what happens if the operator subsequently goes bust and fails to complete the scheme?

An ITU executive, Yvon Henri, speaking to trade mag Space Intel Report, is worried over another variation, where a proposed satellite operator sends up one or two cubesats, tiny shoe-box sized mini-satellites and much smaller and with near-zero functionality as ‘proof’ that the constellation has been ‘brought into use’.

Henri says: “I would not like to see a cubesat used to bring into use any of these mega-constellations. I will look at it very carefully to make sure these cubesats respect whatever parameters are in the filing.”

The FCC and ITU are looking at harmonisation and clarification of the existing rules, with the FCC saying that a filing requirement would be that the new operator has a minimum of satellites in orbit after 6 years.

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