FCC mulls setting aside spectrum for space launches

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eyed a move to allocate dedicated spectrum for space missions, aiming to cut red tape as the number of satellite launches continues to grow.

Currently, private companies must apply for Special Temporary Authority (STA) from the FCC to use government-owned spectrum for vehicle communications during their launch operations. However, a proposal from Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel set to be considered at the commission’s April meeting would carve out a block of spectrum in the 2.2 GHz to 2.29 GHz band for them to use without the need for special permission.

In a blog, Rosenworcel noted the number of rocket launches in the U.S. grew from 7 in 2012 to 39 in 2020, adding in a separate statement the proposal was a step toward developing “predictable and transparent rules to support this growing industry.” She added the FCC would also vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to explore additional regulatory changes.

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A range of companies including OneWeb, Intelsat, Amazon and SpaceX are engaged in a race to launch thousands of low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, which they plan to use to provide broadband connectivity to the U.S. and elsewhere.

Notably, SpaceX recently won $885 million in government funding from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction to fuel a plan to rollout its Starlink satellite broadband service in 35 states.

Tim Farrar of TFM Associates told Fierce the FCC's proposed rule change would provide “some benefit for speeding up the approval process for launches from the U.S., so it is helpful for SpaceX.” But he added it is “unlikely to make any satellite operator change their mind about where they will launch satellites from.”

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Earlier this week, market research company Euroconsult released fresh data showing 43 million people were connected to satellite broadband in 2020 and forecast this figure would grow to 110 million in 2029, with service revenues hitting $12.7 billion.