SpaceX, Relativity and others urge FCC to stay in its lane – TechCrunch

Big space companies, including SpaceX and Relativity, are urging the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stick to its mandate – the use of spectrum – as it considers potentially updating its rules to maintenance, assembly and manufacturing (ISAM) missions in space

The FCC could — and should do — a lot to support ISAM missions that fit well within its regulatory boundaries, the companies said. SpaceX and others, as well as startups like Orbit Fab, which wants to build refueling depots in space, and Starfish Space, which is developing a satellite service vehicle, submitted recommendations related to spectrum and ISAM. The commission also heard from Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance and other space companies and industry groups.

“The biggest piece of this process is the question of whether we need a new spectrum allocation for ISAM?” Brian Weeden, executive director of the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS), explained to TechCrunch in a recent interview. “And that is absolutely within the existing authority of the FCC.”

The FCC sought comment from the industry after opening a new case on ISAM in August. In a statement, the commission said it was specifically looking to understand how it could “update, clarify or modify its rules and licensing processes” to support these emerging capabilities in space. SpaceX, Relativity and others said in their responses that the FCC should exercise its considerable authority over issues related to spectrum usage and licensing — and only on issues related to spectrum usage and licensing.

“The Commission must carefully manage this potentially important but still nascent industry, exercising caution so as not to unintentionally stifle innovation by stepping outside the authority expressly delegated to it by Congress,” SpaceX said.

Relativity Space and the industry association Commercial Spaceflight Federation separately argued that the FCC’s involvement in non-spectrum issues could lead to duplicate approval processes. These could be particularly difficult to navigate for small startups and new entrants to the space.

The new procedure is one of the few steps the commission has taken in recent months to keep pace with the growth of the commercial space industry. In September, the FCC also updated rules relating to spacecraft de-orbiting and orbital debris management, voting that satellite operators must de-orbit satellites in low Earth orbit 5 years after their mission ends, instead of 25.

But such actions have raised questions about whether the FCC has sufficient authority to enact such rules. So far, Congress has made no moves to extend or expand that authority.

FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel seemed to tacitly acknowledge these concerns in a speech to the Satellite Industry Association, announcing that the FCC would establish a new office dedicated to managing space activities.

“The changes I am announcing today are not intended to take on new responsibilities at the FCC,” she said. “They aim to better fulfill our existing statutory responsibilities and free up resources to focus on our mission.”

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