4 illegal satellites launched

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A US-based would-be satellite operator has used an Indian space rocket to launch four small satellites into orbit. The problem is that the satellites are unauthorised and are now considered ‘rogue’ craft.

The USA’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has severely criticised the company, Swarm Technology, for its illegal deployments. Swarm says it was not aware that its application to launch had been denied.

Based in Pasadena, California, Swarm Tech was formed by former Apple and Google engineers Benjamin Longmier and Sara Spangelo in 2016, and launched its prototype satellites in January this year. The company’s “SpaceBEE” satellites were launched on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket managed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Swarm Technology is focused on Internet of Things and distributed innovation and connectivity.

However, the FCC had specifically dismissed Swarm’s application to launch the satellites last December, and has denied permission for Swarm to launch an additional four satellites in April.

“The International Bureau requested that the [application] be set aside in order to permit assessment of the impact of the applicant’s apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites, and related statements and representations, on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee,” FCC said in a letter to the company revoking the authorisation.

The FCC says it is now concerned that the illegal satellites might damage authorised satellites that are operating in space.

The satellites are very small (about the size of a domestic WiFi router). “Even at that size, you’re talking about a substantial energy transfer should they hit something,” said Marcus Holzinger, an aerospace professor, from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Holzinger added: “In most cases it would be an explosive break-up, where all the pieces fly away from each other very quickly.”


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