As the commercial space industry takes off amid a boom of billionaire-backed rocket and satellite startups, the industry’s leading players are urging the Federal Communications Commission, which manages traffic in the increasingly busy low Earth orbit (altitudes between 160 kilometers and 1,000 kilometers), to rewrite rules about how companies use space.
On Monday, an industry coalition representing Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Virgin Orbit (VORBQ), Relativity Space and Sierra Nevada submitted a letter to the FCC, urging the agency to “undertake appropriate reforms of its launch and reentry licensing processes consistent with the direction outlined in Space Policy Directive 2 (SPD-2),” a White House memo issued in 2018 to push agencies like the FCC to streamline regulations regarding space use.
The letter was first reported by CNBC’s Michael Sheetz on Twitter. Noting that the number of commercial rocket launches have grown significantly since 2013, “timely Commission action can help facilitate a rapidly growing commercial space industry that supports the public interest, streamlines outdated regulatory procedures, and protects spectrum use for both government and commercial users,” wrote representatives of the coalition.
Space activities in the U.S. are regulated by multiple federal agencies. The FCC is responsible for responsible for coordinating the use of radio spectrums at which satellites transmit signals from one another in order to prevent signal interference. The agency is historically known for being highly generous in granting spectrum access to commercial missions.
“I’m not aware of any example of the FCC denying such a license,” Brian Weeden, a satellite expert at the Secure World Foundation, recently told Ars Technica. “They’re trying to be business-friendly and encourage companies to be doing business in the US.”
Apparently that’s not enough to satisfy the rapidly growing business of space companies. In Monday’s letter, the industry coalition recommended a list of principles for any potential FCC rule change, with a focus on improving spectrum access for commercial launches, coordinating spectrum use by multiple companies, and automating the application and review process.
The coalition is notably missing a number of major industry players, including longtime NASA contractor United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and small satellite startup Rocket Lab.