The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to make changes to communications policy to support the U.S. space industry in the new year. By February 1, 2024, the agency has already taken steps towards:
- Addressing the use of spectrum by spacecraft and crewed space stations
- Facilitating In-space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM) operations
- Providing additional guidance on orbital debris mitigation
- Including Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) earth stations in the existing 70/80 GHz third-party database registration regime
First, the comment period has opened for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). If finalized, the notice would adopt three footnotes to the Table of Frequency Allocations authorizing the use of new spectrum bands by manned and unmanned spacecraft, the International Space Station (ISS), and other non-federal space stations.
The NPRM anticipates the replacement of the ISS by private space stations and is beginning the slow rollout of the communications necessary to man and supply such spacecraft. FCC is accepting comments on the proposed rule until March 4, 2024, giving industry an opportunity to provide input on important aspects related to how spectrum for these uses should be allocated.
Second, the FCC announced it will vote at its February 15 meeting to adopt an NPRM to facilitate ISAM operations. This item proposes a framework for licensing space stations engaged in ISAM. The rule could dovetail with the proposed rule discussed above, paving the way for the development of future space stations and other expanded economic activity in space.
Third, the agency has just provided additional guidance on orbital debris mitigation and required showings in response to several petitions for reconsideration filed regarding its 2020 Orbital Debris Mitigation Report and Order. While denying the petitions, the FCC set out clarifications regarding its case-by-case review process, including maneuverability and large system disposal requirements.
Finally, the FCC is seeking comment on the 70/80/90 GHz Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) regarding whether to include FSS Earth stations in the existing third-party database registration regime. Such a decision could end individual coordination requirements for the FSS Earth stations. While specific comment deadlines have not yet been set, we anticipate comments will be due in March or April.
Space issues remain high on the agenda of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who established the Space Bureau last year and has continued to champion the industry. As she remarked at the Global Aerospace Summit in September 2023, “when we talk about the benefits of space-based innovation, it is easy to just offer broad statements about the importance of United States leadership and the value of growing the more than half-a-trillion dollar space economy. At least, I know it is for me. But it is important to remember that if all of us—policymakers, industry leaders, and innovators—do this right, we are not just boosting a job-creating industry, we are unlocking advances that have the power to make us safer in crisis and stronger in day-to-day life.”
If you’d like to discuss the FCC’s regulation of space, get in touch with Laura Stefani or other Venable telecommunications professionals.