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Ofcom consults on space spectrum strategy

March 15, 2022

By Colin Mann

Supporting the growing use of cutting-edge satellite technology to offer innovative services for people and businesses, is at the heart of UK comms regulator Ofcom’s new proposed space spectrum strategy.

The space sector is expanding rapidly, with the number of space launches increasing by almost 60 per cent between 2017 and 2021.

Companies such as OneWeb and SpaceX are deploying large numbers of new satellites – non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellite systems. Meanwhile, universities and start-ups are using smaller satellites to test and trial a range of exciting new projects.

Ofcom’s proposed space spectrum strategy sets out its priorities for how it will help the sector deliver even more services in the coming years, while making sure it uses spectrum efficiently.

Supporting the growth of satellite broadband

Thousands of NGSO satellites orbit the Earth constantly, tracked by satellite dishes as they move across the sky, to provide broadband to homes and businesses in remote locations.

But these innovative news services need radio spectrum to work – and that’s where Ofcom comes in.

Ofcom’s job is to make sure this spectrum is used efficiently and manage risks of interference between different spectrum users. So its space spectrum strategy sets out where it thinks it can make the biggest difference over the next two to four years, building on the licensing changes it introduced in 2021.

This includes considering options for future access to UK spectrum that could boost the capacity of satellite services, such as additional access to the 14.25 – 14.50 GHz band, as well as pursuing improvements to international NGSO rules.

Protecting vital Earth observation services

Earth observation satellites are playing an increasingly important role in collecting data on climate change. For example, they use radio waves to monitor changes in the natural world, such as the changing thickness of ice in polar regions. These systems also help other industries, such as agriculture, the emergency services and weather forecasting.

Part of Ofcom’s job is to help ensure Earth observation systems are protected from interference from other spectrum users.

Safe access to space

The rapidly rising numbers of space objects and proposals for mega-constellations has led to concerns across the space community about the potential for space debris.

Ofcom’s role is to make sure there is appropriate spectrum available for systems that support the safe use of space, such as radar systems that track the many objects in space.

“While spectrum might be alien to some, we all rely on these invisible radio waves every day,” stated Helen Hearn, Ofcom Interim Spectrum Group Director. “And they’re vital to the rapidly growing space industry.”

“So as the next generation of satellites beam down vital information to us, we’re playing our part to help the sector continue its journey and make sure these enterprising pioneers have the launchpad they need.”

The consultation closes on May 24th 2022 and Ofcom aims to publish its final strategy later in the year.

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