Viasat boss slams LEO regulations

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Viasat’s founder and chairman Mark Dankberg, delivering his Keynote address to delegates at the 2021 Satellite Innovation event at Mountain View, California, was highly critical of US and European regulators over their action – or lack of – in terms of Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites.

Viasat own a growing fleet of geostationary satellites providing broadband and other capacity around the globe.

Dankberg expressed exasperation over industry regulators including the FCC and ITU and said that granting permission for thousands of LEO satellites into orbit around the planet was simply dangerous.

“How big is space?” he asked, and argued that there is only a finite amount of space to place LEO satellites in.

He told delegates that whether or not all the proposed networks are launched it was inevitable that one or more governments would decide not to permit a US-based system to operate over a specific nation. Moreover there were “dozens” of countries with their own LEO satellite plans and thereby increasing the risks of control over the number of satellites to be launched and the risks that follow.

Dankberg also cited those risks and spoke about the problems highlighted in numerous technical papers and surveys about the direct threat of in-orbit collisions and the resulting impact onto the industry and clients.

Should there be a collision between satellites or an impact from debris, he said, would mean that orbits would be unusable for decades, even centuries. He showed delegates a paper issued by the FCC which warned about these problems and yet “had actually done nothing about its own warning”.

Dankberg said that the implementation of these huge mega-constellations will take us past the tipping point where space itself becomes inaccessible. He cautioned that just one collision would lead to an overwhelming burden on Earth-based observation of debris and the cumulative effects of untrackable debris and non-manoeuvrability of ‘dead’ orbiting satellites. “Damaging one orbit would threaten activity in other orbits.”

He called for a rethink about LEO launches and proposed the greater use of smaller so-called ‘cube-sats’ with much smaller footprints onto the ground below. This would be a better use of orbital resources, he said, and mitigate the risks of catastrophic disaster in space.


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