FCC Simplifies Licensing for Many Satellite and Earth Station Operators


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The FCC streamlined its licensing for satellites and associated earth stations to make the process more efficient and less burdensome. With Wednesday’s Report and Order, the agency established a new, optional unified licensing framework available to systems operating above 10 GHz.

Currently, the agency issues separate licenses for earth stations and space stations in a satellite system based on the different application requirements that govern satellite services. With the adoption of the optional unified licensing framework, space stations and blanket-licensed earth stations can be authorized under a single license. The agency hopes the new framework will eliminate redundancies and accelerate new earth station deployments.  

To help independent earth station operators, applicants may simply certify they will comply with the terms and conditions of the license for the satellite the earth station will communicate with. The certification eliminates the need to provide redundant technical demonstrations or other information.  

The Report and Order also aligns the build-out periods for both the earth stations and the satellites they’re communicating with. The alignment offers satellite operators greater certainty about the location of their gateway earth stations earlier in the satellite design process, according to the FCC. The agency also got rid of the requirement that earth station licensees notify the Commission of minor changes that are unlikely to lead to increased interference with other operators’ systems.

During the vote, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai referenced the recent SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket voyage and noted: “We are in the midst of a New Space Age.” Of the agency, he said: We don’t explore space ourselves. We don’t build rockets. And we don’t build and launch satellites. But make no mistake: The FCC has a key role in space. As my friend and former Chairman Newt Minow aptly put it: “Communications satellites will be much more important than sending a man into space, because they will send ideas into space. Ideas last longer than men.”

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