Author Topic: FCC accuses stealth space startup [Swarm] of unauthorized satellite deployment.  (Read 2967 times)

Offline Thomas Dorman

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FCC accuses stealth space startup of unauthorized satellite deployment.
https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/fcc-accuses-stealth-space-startup-235654345.html

For more analysis of the possible implications of this incident see also:
https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=45206

« Last Edit: 07/07/2018 12:02 PM by gongora »

Offline deruch

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FCC accuses stealth space startup of unauthorized satellite deployment.
https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/fcc-accuses-stealth-space-startup-235654345.html
This article from IEEE Spectrum is much better.  The problem wasn't just that they lacked FCC approval.  FCC approval wasn't absolutely needed, per se.  It's that Swarm's uplink/downlink ground stations were in US territory AND they lacked FCC approval.  If the allegations in the article are true--including the timeline of events--it's likely that Swarm did seriously violate rules.  I'm doubtful that they could have scrapped their whole communications plan, procured new ground stations outside US jurisdiction, and secured spectrum allocation and payload approval from the relevant government all within the less than 2 months between FCC denial and PSLV launch.  Should have delayed the launch.  Another potentially legal option might have been to launch totally dark, without any communications (might have necessitated actually disabling the transmitter/receiver on the satellites? and definitely no GPS-position repeater/transponder).  But that wouldn't serve much purpose besides possibly testing the radar reflecting material they apparently got from the Navy.  And, frankly IMO, India would be coming pretty close to violating her international obligations to have launched such a payload under such terms (i.e. dark). 
Shouldn't reality posts be in "Advanced concepts"?  --Nomadd

Online gongora

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FCC accuses stealth space startup of unauthorized satellite deployment.
https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/fcc-accuses-stealth-space-startup-235654345.html
This article from IEEE Spectrum is much better.  The problem wasn't just that they lacked FCC approval.  FCC approval wasn't absolutely needed, per se.  It's that Swarm's uplink/downlink ground stations were in US territory AND they lacked FCC approval.  If the allegations in the article are true--including the timeline of events--it's likely that Swarm did seriously violate rules.  I'm doubtful that they could have scrapped their whole communications plan, procured new ground stations outside US jurisdiction, and secured spectrum allocation and payload approval from the relevant government all within the less than 2 months between FCC denial and PSLV launch.  Should have delayed the launch.  Another potentially legal option might have been to launch totally dark, without any communications (might have necessitated actually disabling the transmitter/receiver on the satellites? and definitely no GPS-position repeater/transponder).  But that wouldn't serve much purpose besides possibly testing the radar reflecting material they apparently got from the Navy.  And, frankly IMO, India would be coming pretty close to violating her international obligations to have launched such a payload under such terms (i.e. dark).

U.S. companies need some sort of government permission to launch a payload, and the reason the FCC gave for rejecting it would still apply if they were launched dark.  This was a stupid thing to do.  We really don't need space startups to start acting like Uber.

Offline deruch

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U.S. companies need some sort of government permission to launch a payload, and the reason the FCC gave for rejecting it would still apply if they were launched dark.  This was a stupid thing to do.  We really don't need space startups to start acting like Uber.

No they don't.  Or, rather everyone does but it doesn't need to be US government permission.  I don't believe there is the same regulations on payload operators that there is on launch providers whereby all actions of "US persons" automatically fall under US law/oversight.  Since this payload was launched on a PSLV, then ISRO and by extension India was responsible.  In this case, the FCC was only involved because of the ground station siting.  And, since the FCC was the licensing authority for the communications the payload also had to pass through the Commission's assessment of Orbital Debris impacts/risks.  Commission rules require them to consider that for all payloads they license.  My point wasn't that the FCC's reasons for rejecting the application would cease to exist should the payloads launch dark, but rather that if they launched dark the FCC would no longer have any involvement in issuing licenses or therefore reviewing the payload.  That would leave India, the government with launch oversight, as the sole reviewer and in sole possession of responsibility to make any such determination. 

I agree.  It was totally idiotic.  Now they're gonna get burned for it.
Shouldn't reality posts be in "Advanced concepts"?  --Nomadd

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U.S. companies need some sort of government permission to launch a payload, and the reason the FCC gave for rejecting it would still apply if they were launched dark.  This was a stupid thing to do.  We really don't need space startups to start acting like Uber.

No they don't.  Or, rather everyone does but it doesn't need to be US government permission.  I don't believe there is the same regulations on payload operators that there is on launch providers whereby all actions of "US persons" automatically fall under US law/oversight.  Since this payload was launched on a PSLV, then ISRO and by extension India was responsible.  In this case, the FCC was only involved because of the ground station siting.  And, since the FCC was the licensing authority for the communications the payload also had to pass through the Commission's assessment of Orbital Debris impacts/risks.  Commission rules require them to consider that for all payloads they license.  My point wasn't that the FCC's reasons for rejecting the application would cease to exist should the payloads launch dark, but rather that if they launched dark the FCC would no longer have any involvement in issuing licenses or therefore reviewing the payload.  That would leave India, the government with launch oversight, as the sole reviewer and in sole possession of responsibility to make any such determination. 

I agree.  It was totally idiotic.  Now they're gonna get burned for it.

US companies absolutely do need US government permissions to launch satellites. Even if they are launching on another nation's rocket. The basic legal framework for this is laid out in the Outer Space Treaty.

Maybe Swarm thought they could get away without the launch permit since they were launching on an Indian rocket, but they seem to be quite sadly mistaken.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
"There are lies, damned lies, and launch schedules." - Larry J

Offline Bananas_on_Mars

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It certainly feels like the reason for the FCC   to cancel the permit is quite arbitrary after they included the radar reflectors.
Tracking stations have no problems tracking those satellites, they have about the same radar crosssection as a typical 3U cubesat.

Relevant tweet

Online whitelancer64

It certainly feels like the reason for the FCC   to cancel the permit is quite arbitrary after they included the radar reflectors.
Tracking stations have no problems tracking those satellites, they have about the same radar crosssection as a typical 3U cubesat.

Relevant tweet

Swarm did take measures to increase their satellites' radar visibility. The FCC deemed those measures insufficient.

“As an object gets below 1U in size, it gets difficult to track, which means it’s harder to predict if there’s going to be a conjunction with another satellite,” says Marcus Holzinger, an aerospace professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and expert on orbital safety. “Anything that size impacting at orbital velocities can be catastrophic.”

Swarm Technologies had realized that the small size of its BEEs might be a problem. It installed a GPS device in each satellite that would broadcast its position when requested. It also covered each of the satellite’s four smallest faces with an experimental passive radar reflector developed by the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. According to Swarm’s FCC application, this would increase the BEE’s radar profile by a factor of 10.

But the FCC was not buying it. After correspondence back and forth through the summer, the FCC sent Swarm a letter in early December. In it, Anthony Serafini, chief of the FCC’s Experimental Licensing Branch, noted that the radar reflector only operated in a certain frequency band, corresponding to “a small portion” of America’s ground-based Space Surveillance Network. He also worried that GPS data would only be available while the satellite was functional."

https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/aerospace/satellites/fcc-accuses-stealthy-startup-of-launching-rogue-satellites
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
"There are lies, damned lies, and launch schedules." - Larry J

Online gongora

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Swarm has applied for permission to communicate with the illegally launched satellites so they can share the location data.

1140-EX-ST-2018
Quote
Swarm seeks narrow authority to transmit data from the SpaceBEE satellites in
order to access tracking information. The SpaceBEE satellites will only transmit to
enable downlinking of GPS data, and will be muted at all other times.


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