At the tail end of 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on proposals to streamline the processing of satellite and Earth station applications under Part 25 of its rules. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel explained that “the new space age needs new rules,” given the growing space economy, and that the public and private sectors will need to collaborate better.

Innovations in the space industry, from low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations to developments in in-space servicing and manufacturing (ISAM), have led to an influx of satellite and gateway Earth station applications in recent years. The impact? Greater demand on the agency’s resources and longer and less predictable wait times for its review and grant of applications. In fact, the rapid rise in the number of satellites being launched, coupled with the novelty and complexity of many of the new systems and spacecraft, caused Rosenworcel to announce plans to create a Space Bureau at the agency.

Under the current rules, the FCC may dismiss applications that agency staff deems unacceptable because of omissions or discrepancies. While the FCC has discretion to waive some application requirements, in some situations the agency will not consider the application at all.

The resulting processing delays could harm an applicant’s opportunity to share the spectrum and compound the complexity of the decision making that goes into many applications.

In the NPRM, the FCC proposes certain changes to its rules, including starting the public record for license applications earlier in the evaluation process without implying favorability for grant of the application. The agency also proposes amending its acceptability criteria to allow for satellite operator waiver requests such as for applications that do not conform with the International Table of Frequency Allocations or that otherwise would be deemed unacceptable for filing.

Among other things, the FCC seeks public comment on:

  • Whether the FCC should provide guidance on the conditions under which a waiver of the International Table of Frequency Allocations is likely
  • Whether there are any suggested updates to the unbuilt NGSO systems rules, including the limits to unbuilt NGSO systems that may encumber accepting legitimate satellite applications
  • Whether it can implement other approaches to streamlining the application process, including whether standards for accepting applications under Part 25 should be loosened
  • Whether the expected processing times for straightforward, uncontested satellite and Earth station applications should be codified or better highlighted

Strikingly absent from this NPRM is any suggestion as to how the agency can better process orbital debris mitigation showings, which are required for many applications. This could include definitive ways to make that process more transparent and streamlined.

The comment dates have not been set yet but likely will be in the coming months. The public will have 45 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register to share its thoughts.

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