As Satellites And Space Junk Multiply, US To Revise Rules

As Satellites And Space Junk Multiply, US To Revise Rules

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifts off from Cape Cavan Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, August 8, 2019.

As Earth’s orbit grows more crowded with satellites, a US government agency said Friday it would begin reviewing decades-old rules for disposing of space junk and other issues such as satellite refueling and inspection and repair of spacecraft in orbit.

“We believe the new space age requires new rules,” Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said after the 4-0 FCC vote, adding that current rules “were largely built on for another era.”

She said the FCC “needs to make sure our rules are prepared for the proliferation of satellites in orbit and new activities in our higher altitudes.”

The FCC also plans to look at “new ways to clean up orbital debris. After all, there are thousands of metric tons of junk in space,” Rosenworcel said. The FCC will consider “the potential for orbital debris remediation and removal applications offered by

the prospect of improving the orbital debris environment.”

The FCC is asking questions about in-space servicing, assembly and manufacturing (ISAM), which includes things like “repairing and refueling satellites and even assembling whole new systems in orbit,” Rosenworcel said.

The event will look at efforts to transform materials through manufacturing while addressing ISAM’s space and spectrum requirements.

“The FCC is the only agency that licenses almost every commercial space mission involving the United States,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “With that power comes the responsibility to understand the missions we authorize, and to create an enabling regulatory environment that opens new doors while still protecting against new risks.”

Starks said the move will help us “get the record we need to fully understand emerging ISAM technologies, their spectrum requirements (and) their debris implications.”

People watch from the beach as the Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the core module of China's Tianhe space station, takes off from Wenchang
People watch from the beach as the Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the core module of China’s Tianhe space station, departs from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, China April 29, 2021. China Daily via REUTERS

The FCC said ISAM “has the potential to build entire industries, create new jobs, mitigate climate change, and advance America’s economic, scientific, technological, and national security interests.”

The FCC is already moving to update its satellite rules and previously adopted new rules to help satellite launch companies access spectrum for transmissions “from space launch vehicles during pre-launch testing and space launch operations.”

In November the FCC granted NanoRacks LLC an experimental license for communications with an experimental component attached to the second stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle “to demonstrate metal cutting in space.”

The FCC said the event will be about what role, if any, it will have in reviewing “planetary defense plans and implications” for missions.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour, carrying four astronauts, approaches the International Space Station in Earth orbit
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Endeavor, carrying four astronauts, approaches the International Space Station in Earth orbit April 24, 2021. Mike Hopkins/NASA/File via REUTERS.

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