ITU adopts new regulations for LEO satellites

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If Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have their way the planet’s heavens will soon be populated with tens of thousands of new Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites. Musk is due to launch 60 of his ‘Starlink’ satellites in the next day or two.

The International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) World Radio Communication Conference-19 (WRC-19) in Sharm el-Sheikh on Nov 20th approved and adopted new rules for LEO activity.

Described as the ‘milestone approach’, the new rules will provide a regulatory mechanism to help ensure that ITU’s Master International Frequency Register reasonably reflects the actual deployment of such Non-GSO satellite systems in certain frequency bands and services. In defining more flexible timelines and objective criteria, this approach also seeks to strike a balance between the prevention of spectrum warehousing, the proper functioning of coordination mechanisms, and the operational requirements related to the deployment of NGSO systems, said an ITU statement.

While satellites in geostationary orbit are aligned with the earth’s rotation at an elevation of 36,000 km, Non-GSO satellites move across the sky during their orbit around the earth, in medium Earth-orbit 8,000 – 20,000 km above the earth and in low-Earth orbit at elevations between 400 and 2000 km.

“With the availability of launch vehicles capable of supporting multiple satellite launches, mega-constellations consisting of hundreds or thousands of spacecraft are becoming a popular solution for global telecommunications, including to remote rural areas and isolated communities, providing low-latency broadband coverage (owing to their proximity to the earth’s surface), remote sensing, space and upper atmosphere research, meteorology, astronomy, technology demonstration and education,” said the ITU.

Under the newly adopted regulatory approach these systems will be required to deploy 10 per cent of their constellations within two years from the end of the current period for bringing into use, 50 per cent within five years, and complete the deployment within seven years.

“Non-geostationary satellite systems are capable of providing high-capacity and low-cost means of communication even to the most isolated regions of the world,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “In facilitating the deployment of NGSO satellite systems, WRC-19 has made it possible to connect the unconnected and bridge the digital divide.”

“Advances in satellite design, manufacturing and launch service capabilities have created new possibilities for high-bandwidth connectivity around the world,” said Mr Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau. “This landmark agreement at WRC-19 represents a technological milestone that will enable the deployment of next-generation communications while providing broadband Internet access to the remotest regions.” ​


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