TR Daily Entities Ask FCC to Reconsider Orbital Debris Rules
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Friday, September 25, 2020

Entities Ask FCC to Reconsider Orbital Debris Rules

A number of entities have asked the FCC to reconsider aspects of the report and order it adopted in April modifying its orbital debris rules, with some arguing that the new regulations are unnecessarily stringent and others seeking additional mandates (TR Daily, April 23).

In a joint petition for reconsideration filed in IB docket 18-313, The Boeing Co., EchoStar Satellite Services LLC, Hughes Network Services LLC, Planet Labs, Inc., Spire Global, Inc., and Telesat Canada argued that the order adopted by the FCC "still warrants additional improvement to fully reflect the Commission's goals and to implement rules for the mitigation of orbital debris that are not excessively burdensome on the U.S. commercial satellite industry."

The entities said that the FCC "has appropriately focused on the critical need to ensure that orbital resources are maintained as a safe and sustainable environment to support the future of space commerce and scientific research. In pursuing this public interest benefit, the Commission acknowledged three important goals in this rulemaking. First, the Commission must maintain 'the clearest possible regulatory framework' for U.S. satellite applicants through the adoption of rules that are objective, transparent and predictable. The Order, however, still includes numerous instances of case-by-case decision making that are likely to leave satellite applicants guessing as to the Commission's specific requirements.

"Second, each of the five Commissioners acknowledged the need to align the orbital debris rules with the recommendations of other expert U.S. federal agencies, as directed by the President's Space Policy Directive-3. The Order, however, often diverges substantially from the recommendations of other expert federal agencies, including, in some cases, disregarding the findings of the recently updated multi-agency Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices," the petition added.

"Third, the Commissioners acknowledged the importance of adopting a balanced approach that seeks to mitigate the risks posed by orbital debris, 'while at the same time continuing to light a regulatory path for space-based innovation.' The bulk of the Order, however, devotes almost no attention to the burdens that certain rules will impose on U.S. satellite operators," according to the petition. "Many of the new information disclosure requirements are justified solely by statements that their benefits will outweigh the costs of submitting the identified information, with no consideration of the real costs that would be incurred by satellite operators that are forced to redesign or abandon proposed satellite systems that fail to align with the Commission's often unwritten expectations. This is wholly inconsistent with the Presidential directive that federal agencies must foster 'continued growth and innovation in the U.S. commercial space sector' through measures to 'streamline processes and reduce regulatory burdens that could inhibit commercial sector growth and innovation.'"

The entities asked the FCC to rescind (1) "both its information disclosure and operational requirement addressing the effective maneuverability of satellites"; (2) "elements of the Order that effectively impose an enforceable obligation on large satellite systems to achieve a probability level of 0.99 for the post-mission disposal of satellites"; (3) "its restrictions on the use of satellite launch deployment devices because such devices can be very beneficial in preventing collisions between simultaneously-deployed satellites and thereby help prevent the creation of orbital debris"; and (4) "its information disclosure requirement for the use of liquids on spacecraft that, if released into space, could remain in droplet form."

In another petition for reconsideration, Kuiper Systems LLC, a subsidiary of Amazon.com Services LLC, asked the FCC to expressly require "a later-filed large NGSO [non-geostationary-satellite orbit] constellation to maintain sufficient orbital separation from an earlier-filed large NGSO constellation. This requirement would apply to both U.S. and foreign-licensed constellations seeking U.S. market access. By adopting this rule, the Commission will remain at the forefront of space safety standards that are critical to enhancing competition in the space economy, fostering a more stable and predictable operating environment over time, and promoting investment and the efficient deployment of communications satellites."

In another petition for reconsideration, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) asked the FCC to revisit "its decision to retain the exception for non-U.S. satellite operators to the rules that protect the orbital environment. Alternatively, the Commission should clarify what information is required to meet the newly adopted 'transparency' requirement for non-U.S. licensees. The need for all systems operating in the United States to be subject to the strong oversight of the Commission has never been more clear, especially in light of a series of recent maneuvers by non-U.S. licensees to avoid their responsibility to maintain a safe orbital environment." —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC FederalNews Satellites

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