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Communications Space Science

FCC Guidance On Radio For Commercial Space Operations Falls Short 48

RocketAcademy writes "The Federal Communications Commission has issued a Public Notice to help commercial space companies obtain use of communications frequencies for launch, operations, and reentry. Commercial space companies can obtain the use of government frequencies on a temporary, non-interference basis through the FCC's Experimental Authorization process. Experimental Authorizations are valid for a six-month period from the date of grant and are renewable, but applicants must obtain a new authorization for each launch and must apply 90 days in advance. Unfortunately, this requirement does not meet the needs of suborbital launch providers who expect to fly several times per day and schedule launches as needed, on very short notice."
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FCC Guidance On Radio For Commercial Space Operations Falls Short

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  • Wrong application (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @05:07PM (#43192905)

    Call it an airplane, get an aircraft RT license and license the pilots. It *is* an airplane, it's not really a spacecraft since it's at most, a hop.

            In any case, no one is coming close to doing multiple flights A MONTH, much less multiple flights a day.

    • It *is* an airplane, it's not really a spacecraft since it's at most, a hop.

      An airplane is defined as "a heavier-than-air aircraft kept aloft by the upward thrust exerted by the passing air on its fixed wings and driven by propellers, jet propulsion, etc." If any portion of your flight profile includes a portion where the control surfaces of the wings are ineffectual or lift is generated by means other than air passing over the wings, it is not an airplane.

      I'm sorry, it was a really good idea, but wordipulation will not avail you here. Gandalf said so. In other news, an experimenta

      • Yeah, but this is for the FCC, not the FAA, so the specific means of propulsion isn't obviously relevant. The "experimental aircraft license" note nor the commercial/noncommercial distinction certainly isn't relevant, and I can't find any explicit language one way or another that says whether a space flight could or couldn't use air-band frequencies legally. There may in fact be some, but it doesn't seem like that's what you were talking about.

        • There may in fact be some, but it doesn't seem like that's what you were talking about.

          Those frequencies can't be used except by licensed pilots. That's why the OP suggested getting an airplane license; It would then allow the use of those frequencies legally. However, getting that license means you have to be flying an airplane, not a space ship. It was a not-so-clever attempt at bypassing existing regulations in an attempt to achieve the objective: Access to wireless communications necessary for safe flight.

          That particular approach is flawed; At least based on present-day law, it cannot suc

  • by slimjim8094 ( 941042 ) <slashdot3@just[ ... t ['con' in gap]> on Saturday March 16, 2013 @05:20PM (#43192985)

    Rather than guesstimating a timeframe for when these "suborbital launch providers" might in theory potentially begin "fly[ing] several times per day", they're allowing for current needs without over-provisioning or over-promising. They're already being forward looking with these rules, so presumably when needs change, or are about to change, they'll adjust them to meet the upcoming requirements.

    Troll article is troll

    • Instead of "guesstimating a timeframe ," they could simply ask.

      It's not like rocket companies have unlisted phone numbers or won't take a phone call from the FCC.

    • Civilians can use govt/military spectrum under a Memorandum of Understanding between them and the agency, and a copy of that MOU is supposed to get sent on to the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Agency - the FCC for Federal Agencies, in effect. This is how privately owned stream gauges get operated on NOAA frequencies around 169 MHz and how privately-owned nuclear power plants use the SHARES shortwave network on federal frequencies. And have for decades. This is totally a non-problem.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @05:25PM (#43193001) Homepage

    It's hard because the space guys want exclusive use of a chunk of spectrum over most of the planet. Then they don't use it that often.

    If there was enough space travel to justify it, there would be something like Aeronautical Radio, Inc. to handle it, with ground stations used by many parties. Or Iridium would offer links that were aimed at other directions than the ground. Commercial space isn't big enough yet to justify the investment.

    • I would generally agree with your assessment, other than the fact that there are many commercial operators planning on getting into the game real soon with much more frequent flights than has been the case in the past. By far and away most of those flights are going to be sub-orbital (typically only going to 100 km in altitude) and the bulk of these flights will even be working with air traffic in some fashion or another.

      Orbital spacecraft are going to be a much tougher problem, particularly for things like nanosatellites. They will be using that spectrum for prolonged periods of time (years at a time or longer), and if there are crews in spacecraft like a Bigelow module or some other "orbital hotel", they may even need a global "clear channel" of some sort.

      Allowing everybody to have the luxury of a global clear channel communications link like the Apollo astronauts enjoyed in the 1960's isn't going to be possible if large numbers of people start using space and seek their own "private communications channel". It will be interesting to see how this will all work out, and I don't think there is a single realistic solution to this mess but rather a whole bunch of compromises and even rethinking how communications between ground stations and spacecraft will take place in the coming decades.

    • The problem is that the process of getting radio spectrum allocated takes time. The space companies have to start the process now to get spectrum in time for their large scale operations; they can't wait until the operations are in place and then apply because then they would be grounded for at least a couple of years.
  • The FCC (Uncle Charlie) is really struggling these days. Their structure dates back to 1934 and the combination of ever-faster-changing-technology and scope creep has simply overwhelmed them. Only the fact that the ITU is worse keeps them in business.

  • If there were no commercial ramifications you could use amateur radio licenses. People already talk to the ISS, bounce signals off the moon, etc. All you need is the ticket.
    • If there were no commercial ramifications you could use amateur radio licenses. People already talk to the ISS, bounce signals off the moon, etc. All you need is the ticket.

      Not legally.

    • If there were no commercial ramifications you could use amateur radio licenses. People already talk to the ISS, bounce signals off the moon, etc. All you need is the ticket.

      Ham radio cannot be used for any commercial purpose. If a commercial spaceflight pilot could use it as their main communication channel, then every other company could use it by some similar logic. Then things would just degenerate to a war to see who had the most powerful transmitter or something. It would be bad.

      • It's not a question of commercial or not. What you need to do it leverage the crisis handling skills of amateur emcomm operators in a commercial setting. They will not be operating under an amateur license they will be operating under a commercial license but having the experience and knowledge of amateur operators that have come from the emcomm field. What would cost less, training commercial personnel in communications protocols or training radio amateurs in commercial protocols. ROI baby! It just makes
        • by Teancum ( 67324 )

          My experience is that commercial radio engineers tend to know more about their spectrum usage and how it interacts with other frequencies much better than most amateurs.... even experienced "Ham" radio operators. This isn't to say that somebody training under an amateur radio license is completely clueless, and I'll admit that one of the major reasons for encouraging amateur radio operators by the FCC and other licensing bodies was to help train a group of people who could theoretically be employed in an e

  • Not a physicist, please be gentle if this is ludicrous but would it be possible to do signalling using targeted infrared lasers once in orbit (where no atmospheric drag precludes extending an external pod) and use commercial aviation bands at normal power levels for in-atmosphere flight?
    • Actually, extremely-high bandwidth laser comms for communication at further-than-the-moon distances is a hot research topic, precisely because optical telescopes can do things that radio telescopes can't. Specifically, optical telescopes can offer 150dB of gain even from a modest-sized 'scope. For more, see the tech report series at JPL's TMO Tech Report Series [].

      Of course, lasers require precision aiming, but that's just an engineering problem. :-)

    • Radio is likely the only viable option for launch and reentry, when the space ship is moving rapidly relative to the ground station. It's also the part of the operation when you have the greatest need for communications.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    (Author's Note: Author works in the satellite communications industry, and also holds an Amateur Radio license. All opinions are the author's own and he does not speak for either the satellite communications industry nor the Amateur radio operator's community.)

    First, the FCC doesn't provision spectrum use for the whole planet--nor do they provision spectrum use for the US in a vacuum. The FCC works in cooperation with the ITU and other governing authorities when it comes to spectrum allocation.
    Some areas

    • It will be some work to make all the necessary international coordination happen but it should be feasible. The space companies need suitable spectrum to make their operations possible. But they shouldn't need vast quantities of it; they're presumably not going to be broadcasting multiple video streams from space or anything of the like, just some voice comms and telemetry.
  • What if someone from outside the USA goes into space? The FCC has less than no authority over them.

    For those of you wondering how this bizarre state of affairs could come about, just ask yourself who is actually taking bookings right now.
    Virgin Galactic is part of Sir Richard Bransons empire and although he is content to fly from somewhere in New Mexico, that may only be because that is where the money is. You can try and prevent things moving but maybe someone has got developers in Europe or Australia w

    • Arguably a United States spaceship is within the territorial limits of the United States. This is why the FCC licenses aeronautical and nautical stations regardless of where they are. It's also why US embassies use radio frequencies for their communications that are allocated by the US, not the host country.

      Surely they will continue to use good engineering practice in picking frequencies that are either designated for a similar-enough purpose, or can be made available for this use. We managed to talk to the

      • by dkf ( 304284 )

        It's also why US embassies use radio frequencies for their communications that are allocated by the US, not the host country.

        They'll be using frequencies from bands designated globally for embassy traffic so that they don't get the host country riled up enough for them to start broadcasting at high power from nearby, drowning the embassy out. Embassies generally try to avoid irritating their hosts directly, as there's all sorts of ways for the host to make things unpleasant even without physically intruding. I'm guessing that the FCC/State Department negotiate what frequencies to actually use for official communications with the

    • by Teancum ( 67324 )

      The question being raised about this frequency usage is not for space to space communication, but for space to ground communication. In other words, it is dealing with stuff that is happening here on the Earth and in the jurisdiction of some government.

      To use your example, if Richard Branson is flying his Spaceship Two over New Mexico and asking for clearance to land, he needs to get permission from the FCC to even use the radio to communicate with the personnel at Spaceport America. If he was doing this

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead