Senators Booker, Sullivan Press FCC on Space Debris and LEO Constellations

Senators Booker, Sullivan Press FCC on Space Debris and LEO Constellations

Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Dan Sullivan (R-Arkansas) sent a letter to the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) yesterday asking that he establish an  interagency working group to develop a “comprehensive policy on mitigating space debris.”  The catalyst of their concern is applications to the FCC from companies that want to operate large constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO).

Booker and Sullivan said they are excited by the potential of such constellations “to connect rural and underserved American populations to the Internet,” but mitigating the chances of collisions is “critical to ensuring the long term sustainability of the space environment.”

The FCC assigns radio frequencies to private sector companies operating terrestrial or space systems providing services within the United States.  While much attention in the space community is focused on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s responsibility to issue licenses for commercial space launches (and reentries), a spacecraft that cannot communicate back to Earth is useless.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a U.N. specialized agency, allocates radio frequency bands for various uses worldwide.  Within those allocations the FCC assigns frequencies for private sector use in the United States.  The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) does the same for government users of the spectrum.

Ajit Pai, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission. Credit: FCC website.

Ajit Pai was just confirmed yesterday as the new FCC Chairman by a vote of 52-41.  He has been one of the five members of the FCC since 2012 and its acting chairman since President Trump took office.

The FCC recently granted an application for OneWeb’s proposed constellation of 720 communications satellites at an altitude of 1,200 kilometers and others for various purposes are under consideration.

The Booker-Sullivan letter did not single out OneWeb or any other company, but focused on the growing problem of space debris in LEO.  It asked Pai to coordinate with NASA and the FAA to establish an interagency working group on space debris and “develop a comprehensive domestic policy on space debris mitigation.”

Arguably that issue is the within the province of the White House National Space Council, which will hold its first meeting on Thursday.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.