What is the FCC’s Role in Commercial Space?

Source: Viasat

Introduction

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plays a crucial role in regulating satellites in the United States. The FCC is responsible for managing the use of the non-federal radio frequency spectrum and ensuring that radio communications, including those from satellites, do not interfere with each other. The FCC role in regulating satellites includes the responsibilities summarized in the following sections.

Licensing

The FCC is responsible for issuing licenses to satellite operators for their communication systems. This includes frequency allocation and coordination to avoid interference with other systems.

Orbital Debris Mitigation

The FCC works in conjunction with other agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to ensure that satellite operators follow guidelines to minimize the creation of orbital debris. These guidelines include safe disposal methods for decommissioned satellites and measures to prevent in-orbit collisions.

The FCC also requires satellites ending their mission in or passing through the low-Earth orbit region (below 2,000 kilometers altitude) to deorbit as soon as practicable but no later than five years after mission completion. The mission length and deorbit timeline for any given satellite are established through its application process with the FCC’s International Bureau.

Radio Frequency Management

The FCC manages the radio frequency spectrum to prevent interference among various satellite systems and terrestrial networks. This includes the allocation of frequency bands for satellite communication, coordination with international bodies, and enforcement of spectrum-use rules.

Compliance and Enforcement

The FCC monitors and enforces compliance with its rules and regulations, including those pertaining to satellites. This may involve conducting investigations, levying fines, or taking other enforcement actions against non-compliant operators.

International Coordination

The FCC represents the United States in international forums, such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), to negotiate and coordinate spectrum allocations, frequency assignments, and satellite communication regulations on a global scale.

Encouraging Innovation

The FCC also aims to promote the development of new satellite technologies and services by fostering a competitive environment and ensuring that regulations evolve with advancements in the field.

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