September 14, 2022
Chairwoman, Federal Communications Commission
During the first space age in the mid-20th century, humans spent decades of resources to place the first person on the moon's surface. Now, in the second space age, entrepreneurs spearhead global space missions, and space tourism enters the realm of possibility.
During the 2022 Global Aerospace Summit, Jessica Rosenworcel, Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, delivered remarks on the advancements of U.S. leadership in space and the growing space economy and the Commission's role in setting rules for safe operations in orbit and licensing space systems.
Current Space Policies Must Be Changed
The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for the oversight of communication networks, including commercial airwaves. Rosenworcel explained that even though satellite systems have been a part of the FCC’s portfolio, the space industry is making waves no one has seen in our lifetimes.
“Every day, we see new companies, new business models, and new technologies that are pioneering a new space economy,” she said. “We know we need new rules for the new space age here on the ground [because] the regulatory frameworks we rely on to shape space policy… were largely built for another era.”
To make way for changes to space policies, the FCC is introducing new initiatives and adding more engineers and policy experts to its rosters.
“Across the board, we are working to update our rules, bulk up our ranks at the FCC to support this policy, and speed up the commercial licensing process,” explained Rosenworcel. “In fact, I'm proud to say that we have increased the size of our agency’s responsibility for satellite matters by 38%.”
The United States Needs to ‘Build What Is New’
Rosenworcel introduced a new FCC initiative titled Facilitating Capabilities to Spur Space Innovation in July 2022. Its goal is to support new in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing, or ISAM.
“ISAM capabilities can help us repair and refuel satellites in space, assemble whole systems while they are in orbit, and even build entirely new industries that are going to advance scientific frontiers and national security,” said Rosenworcel. “On top of that, we are making more spectrum available to fuel our space ambitions. In July , we decided to free up more airwaves in the 17 gigahertz span to support the growing demand for space services.”
The FCC Is Working to Support Space Sustainability
Since 1957, about 10,000 satellites have made their way to the skies. Today, over half of these satellites no longer work, leaving them in space as orbiting debris.
According to Rosenworcel, it was “cheaper to abandon them instead of taking them out of orbit.” However, she explains this practice has created unintended consequences.
“[Space debris] stay in orbit for decades careening around our increasingly crowded skies as space junk,” said Rosenworcel. “...It raises the risk of collisions that harm satellites that we count on, and it makes it harder to launch new objects into higher orbits. It even has environmental consequences back on earth.”
To limit the introduction of new orbital debris, Rosenworcel announced a new FCC effort in September 2022.
“It has been the recommended practice for satellite operators to deorbit their spacecraft within 25 years of completing their missions,” said Rosenworcel. “I announced a proposal that I shared with my FCC colleagues that would shorten this period from 25 years to five years. If adopted, it will mean more accountability and less risk of collisions that increase debris and the likelihood of space communications failures.”
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