In January, a new company, US-based Swarm Technologies, launched 4 tiny satellites (‘Space Bees’) each barely larger than a slice of bread. The FCC told Swarm in December last year that they could not launch the satellites from the US until such time that the company had coordinated their transmission frequencies, and specifically that the satellites were so small that the USA’s Space Surveillance Network could have difficulties in detecting their presence in space.
Swarm bypassed the FCC and somewhat cheekily used an Indian rocket to launch the satellites.
Now, the company is applying to the FCC for permission to operate the small fleet and expand the quartet with another 3 craft.
The problem is that the FCC has yet to publish – or perhaps decide – on its penalty for the January offence. Swarm’s new filing with the FCC says it “urgently needs to demonstrate the viability of its proposed satellite-based communications network to technical and business partners, potential investors, and potential customers.”
Swarm says it wants to launch the three satellites perhaps as early as September 1st as part of a SpaceX mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The prospects are not necessarily good given that the FCC has already set aside an application to launch 4 slightly larger satellites in March. The 3 new satellites (covered by this latest application) called SpaceBee-9, 10 and 11 are designed to further test communication for Internet of Things services.
The FCC says that even though its enforcement inquiry is ongoing, it is reviewing Swarm’s latest application. However, in April, it issued a blunt advisory notice for small satellite operators that read: “Compliance with requirements for licensing of satellite communications is not optional. Failure to comply with FCC requirements can and will result in enforcement action.”
The options for the FCC include demanding repayment of all or part of the $740,000 the National Science Foundation awarded Swarm to help develop its technologies.