FCC Votes to Approve New Space Bureau

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The new bureau comes from a reorganization of the International Bureau and will help the agency regulate satellites and other related efforts.

The Federal Communications Commission voted to establish a Space Bureau to strengthen the agency’s efforts to regulate satellites, the number of which is expected to exponentially grow in the next few years. As of this spring, there are more than 5,500 active satellites in orbit, a number that is projected to grow to 58,000 by 2030, according to the Government Accountability Office

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel previously announced the plan to establish the bureau in November. A reorganization of the International Bureau will create the new Space Bureau and a new standalone Office of International Affairs—both of which the FCC approved via vote this week. Staff currently working in the International Bureau will be moved to the new bureau or office.

“The satellite industry is growing at a record pace, but here on the ground our regulatory frameworks for licensing have not kept up. We’re working to change that. Today, we are moving forward with our plan to prepare for what comes next,” Rosenworcel said. “A new Space Bureau at the FCC will ensure that the agency’s resources are appropriately aligned to fulfill its statutory obligations, improve its coordination across the federal government, and support the 21st century satellite industry.”

This move will help the commission support the needs of the growing satellite industry, bolster long-term technical capacity at the agency and help it navigate global communications policy. The FCC noted that the Space Bureau will “handle policy and licensing matters related to satellite communications and other in-space activities under the Commission’s jurisdiction.”

Specifically, the adopted order stated, the Space Bureau will “promote a competitive and innovative global telecommunications marketplace via space services.” It would engage in policy analysis and rulemakings, authorize satellite systems to deploy services, streamline regulatory processes and utilize flexible operations to satisfy customer needs, while “fostering the efficient use of spectrum and orbital resources.”

The Space Bureau will also be a “focal point for coordination with other U.S. government agencies on matters of space policy and governance, and will support the Office of International Affairs for meetings with other countries, international organizations and foreign government officials that involve space policy matters,” according to the order.

This is the agency’s latest effort in its Space Innovation agenda, according to the announcement, whereby the FCC has worked to accelerate regulatory review processes, grow the size of the agency’s satellite division by 38%, develop new competition opportunities for satellite broadband services and pursue spectrum modernization. Additionally, the FCC previously addressed the issue of orbital debris by shortening the time frame to deorbit or repurpose satellites no longer in use.

In order for the planned changes to go into effect, the FCC will first have to obtain congressional approval for the reorganization and place a notice in the Federal Register.