FCC to Consider Proposal Enabling Spectrum for Commercial Space Launches


Companies currently are approved on an ad-hoc basis to share the federal spectrum during specific operations. 

The Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on a proposal this month that would make spectrum available for the first time to specifically enable commercial space launches. 

“With the support of the FCC, 2021 is shaping up to be a record-setting year for commercial space launches,” the commission’s Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who produced the proposal, said Wednesday. “However, despite the revolutionary activity in our atmosphere, the regulatory frameworks we rely on to support these efforts are dated.”

Private-sector space-based pursuits have been expanding greatly in recent years—causing some to consider this era the commercial space age. That sector of space industry offers governments and people many communications services by this point, and in the FCC’s release, officials note there’s an “increasing reliance on private spaceports to support launch activities rather than federal launch ranges.” Last year, U.S. businesses launched 39 rockets—compared to seven in 2012.

Presently, a special temporary authority from the commission is required for commercial space launches. Frequencies are allocated exclusively for government uses when it comes to liftoffs, FCC officials noted, and companies are approved on an ad-hoc basis to share the federal spectrum during specific operations. 

“The proposed Report and Order circulated today would, if adopted, add a non-federal, secondary allocation in the 2200-2290 MHz band,” officials wrote. Use of the band under this new allocation would limit use to pre-launch testing and actual liftoffs. Rosenworcel added in the statement that the move demonstrates how the “U.S. is leading the way in developing predictable and transparent rules to support this growing industry.” 

Her proposal was among several listed in the FCC’s lineup for its open meeting later this month. 

Amid other items on that agenda, commissioners will consider one requiring carriers to support text messaging to 988, which will soon be the new 911 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and vote on a proposal to allow for the operation of emerging wireless microphone technologies.