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SpaceX Can't Broadcast Earth Images Because of a Murky License (cnet.com) 177

Last Friday, SpaceX wasn't able to give its fans a view of the 10 new Iridium satellites it released into orbit from its Falcon 9 upper stage. Here's why. From a report: Weirdly, company engineers staffing the launch webcast blamed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration restrictions for the blackout from the stage, a staple of most SpaceX launches. Well, at least those that don't involve deploying spy satellites or top-secret space planes. The story behind the missing live feed is a muddy bureaucratic affair. It appears that NOAA has recently decided to start interpreting or enforcing a decades-old law in a new way. The agency says SpaceX and other commercial space companies must apply for a license to broadcast video from orbit.

"The National and Commercial Space Program Act requires a commercial remote sensing license for companies having the capacity to take an image of Earth while on orbit," NOAA said in a statement last week. "Now that launch companies are putting video cameras on stage 2 rockets that reach an on-orbit status, all such launches will be held to the requirements of the law and its conditions."

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SpaceX Can't Broadcast Earth Images Because of a Murky License

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  • F@ck NOAA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ...and the horse they rode in on.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 06, 2018 @02:05PM (#56393663)

    "cant show photo of globe earth because of copyright license law"

    earth is flat, everybody knows it by now

    lol

  • Flat earth (Score:5, Funny)

    by pablo_max ( 626328 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @02:06PM (#56393667)

    Clearly this is part of the coverup designed to convince us that the world is not flat. Nice try.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The earth is round AND flat like a pizza. The Antarctica is the crust.

      • North pole doesn't exist at all. Santa Claus is a lie.

        • by ediron2 ( 246908 )

          Dude, pay attention; Antarctica is the edge, so this meansSanta and the north pole are at the very centermost spot. Center of the classical universe.

      • So, if we dig in Antarctica we can expect to hit cheese?
        Stuffed crust planet, Mmmmm...
  • Security rules (Score:4, Insightful)

    by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @02:07PM (#56393675)

    Likely due to security -- it's essentially a spy satellite that could image military facilities, etc, by chance. Of course, the info is out there anyway, but it probably wasn't as common when the law was actually written.

    On the one hand, I support privacy. On the other hand, transparency about military operations and movements has the potential to destroy the ability of countries to wage war. As a pacifist, I firmly support the latter idea.

    Solution? Transfer ownership of the satellites to a shell company in a country that lacks such restrictions, broadcast away?

    • Re: Security rules (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tomahawk ( 1343 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @02:20PM (#56393783) Homepage

      Those images are not in a high enough resolution to cause any such issues for the military. All you can see is the general outline of the large features. The basically send back a HD image, at best. It's not as of they are sending back images that at 10m per pixel, more like 500m per pixel, or higher still.

      This is just NOAA wanting more money, because they can.

      • I agree that it's utterly daft as the resolution means nothing can be revealed, but from what I've read, the license is free. If that's the case, then it's some jobsworth wasting the NOAA's money of useless paperwork.

      • Hey Donald,

        If you're looking, here's a great way to get rid of stupid regulations and maybe fire a few mid-level bureaucrats.

        Just change the regulation to apply only to cameras with greater than 2400 x 1800 resolution or having lenses with focal length greater than 105 mm.

        Do something actually useful for a change, please.

    • Hobbyists already track pretty much everything in orbit - military secret or not. It's just about impossible to hide the existence of something in orbit.

      • We're not talking about tracking objects in orbit, we're talking about monitoring military sites on Earth. A color change of a runway parking area could indicate a few C-130s with troops and tanks just landed in preparation for an invasion.
        • by Megol ( 3135005 )

          How is that relevant when those countries with the ability to do something with the information already have their own dedicated satellites with much better specifications?
          Are 100Mhz+ digital logic still export restricted in the US BTW? Talking about crazy rules and all...

          • What if we're talking about a smaller country without satellites? Say Panama, Ukraine, or Grenada. Enough advance warning of an invasion would give them time to prepare things like booby traps against invading forces, get their leaders into hiding, etc, etc.
        • Wouldn't it be more practical to plant someone in the vicinity of such a base?
      • Zo where's Zuma then?

    • Re:Security rules (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Xylantiel ( 177496 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @03:24PM (#56394263)
      I'm a little suspicious of the claim that this is being "interpreted in a new way", and it generally sounds like the reporter is more interested in manufacturing controversy for a catchy story than actually figuring out what is going on. The NOAA release [noaa.gov] says that SpaceX has a license already, so that's not "new". I'm wondering if, in a previous launch, they violated some "conditions" that nobody on either side wants to talk about specifically. Another option would be that there was something special about this launch that fell on the wrong side of the "conditions" of SpaceX's license. But the reporter apparently couldn't be bothered to actually report the story, they just made up something vague and inflammatory that isn't even consistent with their own primary sources.
      • Re:Security rules (Score:5, Interesting)

        by thomst ( 1640045 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @07:07PM (#56395459) Homepage

        https://slashdot.org/~Xylantiel confessed:

        I'm a little suspicious of the claim that this is being "interpreted in a new way", and it generally sounds like the reporter is more interested in manufacturing controversy for a catchy story than actually figuring out what is going on. The NOAA release [noaa.gov] says that SpaceX has a license already, so that's not "new". I'm wondering if, in a previous launch, they violated some "conditions" that nobody on either side wants to talk about specifically. Another option would be that there was something special about this launch that fell on the wrong side of the "conditions" of SpaceX's license. But the reporter apparently couldn't be bothered to actually report the story, they just made up something vague and inflammatory that isn't even consistent with their own primary sources.

        Brzzt.

        The NOAA statement you link to is virtually content-free. That's a fact.

        The only thing that seems to have changed is the addition of payload cameras for the Falcon Heavy test launch to showcase Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster and its spacesuited dummy driver, with the Earth as its background. That video has gone pandemic, and, in the process, has immensely boosted both SpaceX's and Elon Musk's own credibility and reputation around the globe, without in any way endangering the USA's national security.

        Were I conspiracy-inclined, I'd point to the fact that Musk's resignation from Trump's Economic Advisory Council started a stampede for the exits by other members of that body that resulted in it being disbanded - after having met a grand total of one time - and that sequence of events put a major dent in POTUS 45's claim to have "all the best people" advising him.

        Then I'd note that among Donald Trump's signal personality traits is holding very public grudges (and prosecuting them in ludicrously petty ways) over insignificant perceived slights. I'd probably also mention that NOAA, counter-intuitively, is an agency of the Commerce Department - and that Wilbur Ross, the current Secretary of that department, has demonstrated himself to be among the very most shameless presidential sycophants in a Cabinet stuffed to bursting with unabashed toadies and lickspittles.

        But I'm not much into conspiracy-mongering, so I'll just add my voice to those who have characterized this bit of bureaucratic thuggery as standard-issue government overreach, tip my hat to the Streisand Effect, and say, "Let's see what happens next time, shall we ... ?"

    • Isn’t taking unauthized imagery if military facilities already a separate offense? And NOAA would not be the agency tasked with enforcing it.

    • The title of the article implies that SpaceX "can't" broadcast from their second stages. A more accurate statement is that they "couldn't" broadcast on their one particular launch. They could in fact broadcast for their previous launch due to the fact that it was a NASA launch. And they have applied for a NOAA license for their future launches, meaning they WILL be able to broadcast from stage 2 for future launches.

    • Of course, the info is out there anyway, but it probably wasn't as common when the law was actually written.

      The law dates back to '92. Which is longer than some of the people reading this have been alive, but not nearly long enough to be meaningful. The Russians (to pick an obvious example) have had spy satellites up for 50+ years, so the 26-year-old law/rule/whatever was pretty much meaningless when it was passed.

      Note, for those who'd like to blame a political Party for passage of this law, the Dems co

      • The law (obviously) can't prevent a state actor outside the US from using spy satellites. What it did prevent is PRIVATE entities launching spy satellites.
  • How convenient, just in the nick of time to grab more money!
    • How convenient, just in the nick of time to grab more money!

      Trump announces a new set of tariffs . . . against . . .

      SPACE!

      One million billion dollars of them!

      . . . so I was just wondering . . . where does all of that money that China is now paying go . . . ?

      • >Trump announces a new set of tariffs . . . against . . .
        >SPACE!
        >One million billion dollars of them!

        This is not a wholly inaccurate description of the SLS program. XD

  • Public Photography (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @02:11PM (#56393705)

    Hasn't it already been tested and settled (in the US) as a First Amendment right? People are free to photograph and shoot video of public spaces that have no expectation of privacy.

    Planet Earth: pretty public.

    • Except that it might catch photos of the operation of US or allied military goons by chance, and those need to be kept secret from entities that are inconvenient to ExxonMobile and Chase.
      • by mark-t ( 151149 )

        Do you know how big space is?

        Do you know how tiny those man-made things are in comparison?

        While it's possible to pick out man made objects, you certainly aren't going to image them with enough fidelity to be able to tell what they are unless you are actively trying to zoom in for a closer look.

        And the objects that are big enough to see from a good distance away aren't unknown in the first place because you can see them from the ground if you know where to look and when.

        • by mark-t ( 151149 )
          Argh.... I hit submit instead of preview, and said the exact opposite of what I meant to type. I meant you can see these largest objects from the ground when you are simply looking up at the night sky, even if you didn't exactly know where to look and when.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 06, 2018 @02:19PM (#56393777)

      I also didn't know that NOAA has supplanted the FCC on broadcast rules as well as extending their ownership to space to enforce their rules there.

    • Hasn't it already been tested and settled (in the US) as a First Amendment right? People are free to photograph and shoot video of public spaces that have no expectation of privacy.

      Planet Earth: pretty public.

      OK, except this isn't about photographing and shooting video. It's about broadcasting photos and video.

    • Hasn't it already been tested and settled (in the US) as a First Amendment right? People are free to photograph and shoot video of public spaces that have no expectation of privacy. Planet Earth: pretty public.

      Sure, they have the right to take photos and videos, but not broadcast / transmit them (at the power required to do so from orbit, anyway) - that requires a license.

    • by godrik ( 1287354 )

      I am no expert, but there are public spaces where you can not take a picture. At border control and in the post office, there are sign that say that it is illegal to take pictures.

      • so, simply seeing 'a sign' posted is all that you need to control you?

        you are easily controlled, my friend.

        signs don't mean shit. it costs nothing to post BS signs. that does not make photos illegal. in public, photos are legal in the US. PERIOD. signs or not.

    • You seem to think that the first amendment applies in low Earth orbit... I don't think it does any more than any other US law.
      • by green1 ( 322787 )

        Unfortunately for spacex, their headquarters isn't in low earth orbit. Though I'm sure it's in the plans.

    • Be careful. If you classify anything on the planet earth as public and having no expectation of privacy, that could be a Pandora's box you may not want to open, though the NSA might love it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So somehow NOAA can violate the Space X's 1st Amendment right? I mean I did not know the US owns the Earth or it's likeness.

    • by jcr ( 53032 )

      The US government routinely violates the bill of rights. Why does this instance surprise you?

      -jcr

  • In other words NOAA have the ability to make money from space launches without actually providing anything except "their permission"...

    • Yes, at NOAA, they also seem to have some very stable geniuses, indeed
  • Does the US Gov't just want SpaceX to move out of country and then broadcast?

    • No, they probably just want SpaceX to apply for the free license which Congress made a requirement in the law years ago so that they're compliant. Fortunately, SpaceX has now already applied for one and thus should be able to broadcast in the future.

      In other words, this is much ado about nothing, except a very minor story about the amount of regulations Congress has passed regarding space.

  • by Billy the Mountain ( 225541 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @02:51PM (#56393999) Journal
    They should just put a pixelation filter over the earth. That will certainly draw attention to it, if nothing else!
  • by Zorro ( 15797 ) on Friday April 06, 2018 @02:52PM (#56394009)

    This is just harassment for making NASA and ULA look bad.

    • Right, it's just harassment, it has absolutely nothing to do with the law regarding getting a no-cost license which Congress passed years ago and the NOAA is required to enforce. SpaceX has now applied for said license and thus should be able to broadcast in the future.

      Do you have any evidence that the NOAA is enforcing this for SpaceX and doesn't enforce it for other groups? Or are you just making stuff up?

      In other words, this is much ado about nothing, except a very minor story about the amount of regulat

  • What are they going to do, fly up there and confiscate the transmitter?

  • presumably the guys with the raspberry pi cameras and weather balloons are not in orbit so this doesn't apply. Or does orbit include anything not touching the ground, what if I jump and take a photo ?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I am in a country in Europe. We once looked into doing a project like this at the university. For a camera a permit seemed to be required, although no-one including the regulator knew the conditions or who is authorized to give it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ah, the march of bureaucratic stupidity continues. If I'm understanding correctly this is an old law from when commercial Earth imagery was a fairly new thing. It was intended to prevent high resolution imagery of sensitive sites being captured and sold at a whim. It has no real relevance to rocket launches (cameras are only capturing Earth as a backdrop, not as focused land images), the law itself is pretty dated as nowadays there are a plethora of companies/countries with high resolution Earth imaging

  • I presume they're not broadcasting from orbit, rather they are transmitting a stream to earth and someone on earth might broadcast it. But what is broadcasting anyway? I don't think youtube is defined as broadcasting is it? because it sends individual streams to users. The only internet broadcasting I know about was the old MBONE which I haven't heard of in years. What precisely is supposedly outlawed? And do laws apply in space anyways?

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
    Why not just broadcast it from some other country? Like Russia. You can broadcast anything you want to out of Russia, can't you?
  • This picture taking was never a problem until a few months ago.

    You know what else happened a few months ago?

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/c... [forbes.com]

    Wake Up, People!

    Now I know that the aliens are here. That they have taken human form. Even if the hair is, you know, the hair is too orange. Somehow I must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • This must go the way of dinosaurs. More accurately, the bicycle licenae and the television reception license.
    Don't know about the US, but in India, you needed a license to ride a bicycle on public road till 1947 and TV broadcast reception licence 1984.

  • what the holy fuck!

    so, taking photos of our own planet are 'security things' that need 'authorization'?

    this proves we jumped the shark. I mean, any thinking person should object to the notion that you need 'permission' to photo anything about the earth.

    look, if your toys are so secret that can't be photod, why are they not under physical cover, then?

    absurdity. time to tear down all regulations and start over. it would be a mixed blessing to restart humanity. what we have now is going entirely in the wro

  • But they can broadcast to countries outside the US without paying a license fee, right? So they should just skip US for a few launches until wisdom comes to NOAA's head.
  • My father used to say, "if it's not clear what something is about, it's probably about money". In this case, a government agency sees a way to profit from selling licenses. Launch companies have money, therefore they need to "pay their fair share" to any government agency that can find a way to tax it using obscure interpretations of old laws.

  • Or did they take footage in space, unicast it down to earth, then broadcast it using the internet or other traditional medium?

  • a private corporation has a moral imperative to publicly tell Uncle Sam to get fucked.

  • Because eventually, they'll perfect things enough that they can move their entire space launching operations into international waters and totally avoid such BS bureaucratic regulations.

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