Remarks of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Policy Roundtable on Small Satellite Integration
Washington, DC July 9, 2019
Thank you for that warm welcome and thank you to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for inviting me to join you this morning. I’m excited to have the opportunity to speak with you today about the U.S. satellite industry—and specifically how the FCC is promoting American innovation and investment in orbit.
The commercial space sector is growing rapidly. Today, we see reusable rockets, satellites and launch vehicles being miniaturized, and startups popping up all over the country. I would argue that for the first time in a generation, America is witnessing a revolution in spaceflight. Yes, this may just be a feeling, but as an astronomical pioneer once said, “Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on.” (That was Captain James T. Kirk in Season 1, Episode 23 of Star Trek: “A Taste of Armageddon.”)
HAWTHORNE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved SpaceX’s request to fly more than 1,500 of its Starlink satellites at an altitude of 550 kilometers. Additional information on the approval can be found here, and the following statement can be attributed to Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX:
“This approval underscores the FCC’s confidence in SpaceX’s plans to deploy its next-generation satellite constellation and connect people around the world with reliable and affordable broadband service. Starlink production is well underway, and the first group of satellites have already arrived at the launch site for processing.”
SpaceX is targeting no earlier than May for launch of a Starlink mission.
Last year, SpaceX became the first U.S.-based company to be licensed by the FCC to operate a NGSO constellation of more than 11,000 satellites.
Earlier this year, SpaceX submitted an application to operate 1 million user terminals as well as its first six gateways to provide the necessary communications links back from the satellites to the global Internet. SpaceX intends to install sufficient gateway sites in the U.S. and around the world to ensure that the Starlink satellites have a visible gateway earth station with which they can communicate from all parts of their orbits.
Jeff Bezos’ Amazon has jumped into a crowded field of companies seeking to provide high-speed broadband, data and other communications services to the entire globe.
Amazon’s Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites brings the total number of spacecraft in the 16 announced systems to 20,241 spacecraft. The competition includes SpaceX, Boeing, Telesat, SES and government-backed companies in China and Russia.
SpaceNewsreports that NASA and the Commerce Department are battling the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over the commission’s plan to auction radio frequency spectrum for 5G service.
The battle has apparently taken the form of an exchange of tersely written letters.
In a March 8 letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, [FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai emphasized the Trump Administration’s commitment to rolling out 5G as soon as possible and freeing up spectrum for it.
The FCC is preparing to auction 2,909 licenses in the 24.25 to 25.25 bands of the electromagnetic spectrum on March 14. At the same time, the FCC is preparing the U.S. government’s proposal for the 2019 World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) in Egypt starting in October. The U.S. plan for protecting passive microwave services from interference is far less stringent than plans published by other nations.
Ross and Bridenstine asked for further discussion of the U.S. position.
“The current FCC proposal would have a significant negative impact on the transmission of critical Earth science data – an American taxpayer investment spanning decades and billions of dollars,” they wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to Pai. “As the U.S. government continues to investigate additional spectrum for future commercial broadband use, it is essential that protections are established for the critical operations of NASA, the Department of Commerce and our international partners in the 23.6 to 24 GHz spectrum band.”
Pai wrote back on March 8 rejecting the idea of putting the auction on hold and attending an inter-agency meeting scheduled for today.
Citing new satellite constellations that plan to collectively launch thousands of new satellites into Earth orbit, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to update its regulations on space debris for the first time in 15 years.
“Proposed deployments of large satellite constellations in the intensely used LEO region, along with other satellites deployed in the LEO region, will have the potential to increase the risk of debris-generating events,” the FCC said in a notice in the Federal Register. “New satellite and deployment technologies currently in use and under development also may increase the number of potential debris-generating events, in the absence of improved debris mitigation practices.”
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has applied for permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate up to one million Earth stations to serve its Starlink constellation of 4,425 Ku- and Ka-band communications satellites it plans to begin launching later this year.
“These user terminals employ advanced phased-array beam-forming and digital processing technologies to make highly efficient use of Ku-band spectrum resources by supporting highly directive, steered antenna beams that track the system’s low-Earth orbit satellites,” SpaceX said in its application.
The Earth stations would be deployed in the contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, “including areas underserved or currently unserved by existing networks,” the company wrote.
“As the Commission has recognized, many communities across the United States and the world still lack access to reliable broadband connectivity, preventing them from fully participating in economic, social, and civic activities,” the application stated.
“To help close this digital divide, SpaceX is designing, constructing, and deploying an innovative, cost-effective and spectrum-efficient satellite system capable of delivering robust broadband service to customers around the world. SpaceX has already secured U.S. authority for the space station components of its NGSO [non-geosynchronous orbit] system,” the document said.
WASHINGTON, December 20, 2018 (FCC PR) — The Federal Communications Commission today announced it has settled an investigation into Swarm Technologies’ unauthorized launch and operation of small satellites. The company agreed to a settlement which included a $900,000 penalty, an extended period of FCC oversight, and a requirement of pre-launch notices to the Commission, among other stipulations.
WASHINGTON, November 15, 2018 (FCC PR) — Today, the Federal Communications Commission granted in part the European Commission’s request for a waiver of the Commission’s rules so that non-Federal devices in the United States may access specific signals transmitted from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) known as Galileo.
With today’s action, consumers and industry in the United States will now be permitted to access certain satellite signals from the Galileo system to augment the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), and thus benefit from improved availability, reliability, and resiliency of these position, navigation, and timing services in the United States.
WASHINGTON, November 15, 2018 (FCC PR) — The Federal Communications Commission today initiated a comprehensive review of its orbital debris mitigation rules. [Download proposed rules here.]
Orbital debris, also known as space debris, consists of a variety of objects, including non-functional satellites, that are orbiting the Earth. Debris can pose a risk to operations in Earth orbit, including satellites and manned spacecraft, and in some instances, pieces of debris falling back to Earth can pose a risk to persons and property on the surface of the Earth.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s plan to provide high-speed communications to virtually any location on Earth got a big boost this week when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the company’s plan to add 7,518 satellites to the company’s Starlink constellation.
The action brings the total number of satellites in Starlink to 11,943 following the FCC’s earlier approval of 4,425 spacecraft last year.
Starlink is Musk’s ambitious entry into the global satellite Internet race. He is gambling big that there is a sufficient market worldwide to make the constellation profitable.
SpaceX launched two test Starlink test satellites into orbit earlier this year. Published reports say Musk wants to launch the first batch of satellites in the middle of next year, with service to begin in 2020.
Starlink is facing competition from OneWeb, which is planning to launch a constellation of 882 satellites to provide similar service. OneWeb plans to begin launching spacecraft next year.
The FCC also approved satellite broadband constellations by three other satellite companies last week. Telesat Canada received approval for an 117-satellite constellation while LeoSat plans to launch 78 spacecraft.
Kepler Communication’s 140-satellite constellation is focused on providing communications for the Internet of Things.
“These proposed satellite systems are expected to enable fixed satellite service in the United States, expanding global connectivity and advancing the goals of increasing high-speed broadband availability and competition in the marketplace,” the FCC said in a press release.
The constellations will greatly increase the number of satellites in Earth orbit. There are currently about 4,900 spacecraft in orbit out of the approximately 8,100 launched since the Space Age began in October 1957. Nearly 2,000 spacecraft are currently operational.
WASHINGTON, November 15, 2018 (FCC PR) — The Federal Communications Commission today proposed to further simplify and streamline its rules governing satellite communications. This proceeding is part of an ongoing effort to make the regulatory approval process for satellite licenses more efficient and less burdensome.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted today builds upon the FCC’s 2016 Biennial Review as well as initiatives developed by Commission staff during its independent review. One significant proposal is to create a new unified license for space stations and earth stations operating in a geostationary orbit, fixed-satellite service network. The proposed unified network license would eliminate redundancies in the separate licensing processes for satellites and earth stations.
The NPRM also seeks comment on other proposals, such as eliminating certain annual reporting requirements for satellite operators and aligning the build-out periods for some earth stations with the accompanying build-out periods for their communicating satellites.
Action by the Commission November 15, 2018 by Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 18-165). Chairman Pai, Commissioners O’Rielly, Carr, and Rosenworcel approving. Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly issuing separate statements.
SpaceX constellation includes 7,518 satellite Internet spacecraft
Three other approved constellations total 335 satellites
WASHINGTON, November 15, 2018 (FCC PR) — The Federal Communications Commission today approved the requests of four companies—Space Exploration Holdings, LLC (SpaceX), Kepler Communications, Inc. (Kepler), Telesat Canada (Telesat), and LeoSat MA, Inc. (LeoSat)—seeking to roll-out new and expanded services using proposed non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) satellites.
These proposed satellite systems are expected to enable fixed satellite service in the United States, expanding global connectivity and advancing the goals of increasing high-speed broadband availability and competition in the marketplace.
MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES
SUBJECT: Developing a Sustainable Spectrum Strategy for America’s Future
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of the United States to use radiofrequency spectrum (spectrum) as efficiently and effectively as possible to help meet our economic, national security, science, safety, and other Federal mission goals now and in the future. To best achieve this policy, the Nation requires a balanced, forward-looking, flexible, and sustainable approach to spectrum management.
Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook is working on a satellite Internet project designed to provide broadband access around the globe, Wired reports.
The emails show that the social network wants to launch Athena, its very own internet satellite, in early 2019. The new device is designed to “efficiently provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world,” according to an application the social network appears to have filed with the FCC under the name PointView Tech LLC.
With the filing, Facebook joins Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Softbank-backed OneWeb, two well-funded organizations working on similar projects. In fact, SpaceX launched the first two of what it hopes will be thousands of its Starlink satellites just this past February.
The emails, which date back to July 2016, and subsequent confirmation from Facebook, confirm a story published in May by IEEE Spectrum, which used public records to speculate that Facebook had started a satellite internet project.
The new emails detail meetings between FCC officials and lawyers from a firm Facebook appears to have hired, which specializes in representing clients before government agencies. In one exchange from 2016, a lawyer from the firm requests to meet with FCC officials in the Office of Engineering & Technology and the International Bureau Satellite Division to discuss applying for an experimental license to construct and operate a “small LEO [low Earth orbit] satellite system with a limited duration mission.” The emails indicate that Facebook also set up subsequent meetings with the FCC in June and December of 2017.
SpaceX has applied for permission to land a Falcon 9 first stage at Vandenberg Air Force Base for the first time.
The request to the Federal Communications Commission for “special temporary authority” covers a six-month window from September 5, 2018 to March 5, 2019. SpaceX needs permission for communications between the landing site and the returning first-stage booster for the experimental operation.
All previous land recoveries have taken place at Cape Canaveral in Florida. SpaceX has recovered first stages from Vandenberg launches using offshore drone ships.