The Federal Communications Commission has issued a Public Notice to help commercial space companies obtain use of communications frequencies for launch, operations, and reentry. Unfortunately, the FCC requirements don’t seem to meet the needs of high-rate launch operations that are expected in the near future.
Currently, commercial space operations use radio frequencies allocated exclusively for federal government use. The FCC can authorize use of those frequencies on a temporary, non-interference basis through its Experimental Authorization process. The Public Notice provides guidance on how to obtain an Experimental Authorization for communications associated with for commercial space operations, including spacecraft, ground stations, and ground-test facilities.
Experimental Authorizations are valid for a six-month period from the date of grant and are renewable. Applicants must obtain a new authorization for each launch and must apply 90 days in advance. It does not appear that the FCC has thought this through. This approach may work well for SpaceX cargo launches to the International Space Station, but it does not meet the needs of suborbital launch providers who expect to fly several times per day and schedule launches as needed, on very short notice. (Imagine what would happen if the airlines had to request a new radio license for each flight.)
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “Our actions today are designed to accelerate the growth of a new American industry with major growth potential, commercial space launches. Companies can’t launch or operate space vehicles without spectrum, and today the U.S. is leading the way in developing rules of the road for commercial space launches. Our measures to streamline processes and increase predictability will help boost U.S. leadership in the commercial space industry.”