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

Space majors including SpaceX and Relativity are urging the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stick to its mandate – spectrum use – as it seeks to potentially update its rules for maintenance, assembly and manufacturing missions in space (ISAM).

There is much the FCC could — and should — do to support ISAM missions that fall squarely within its regulatory limits, the companies said. SpaceX and others, as well as startups such as Orbit Fab, which wants to build resupply depots in space, and Starfish Space, which is developing a satellite servicing vehicle, have submitted recommendations on spectrum and ISAM. The committee also heard from Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance and other space companies and industry groups.

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

The FCC solicited comments from the industry after launching a new process for ISAM in August. In a statement, the commission said it specifically sought to understand how it could “update, clarify or modify the rules and permitting 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 use and licensing — and only issues related to spectrum use and licensing.

“The Commission must handle this potentially important but still nascent industry with care, exercising caution not to inadvertently stifle innovation by stepping outside of the authority expressly granted to it by Congress,” SpaceX said.

Relativity Space and the industry association Commercial Spaceflight Federation separately argued that the FCC’s involvement in issues other than those related to spectrum could lead to duplicate approval processes. These can be especially challenging for smaller startups and newer entrants into the space.

The new process is one of the few actions the commission has taken in recent months to keep up with the growing commercial space industry. In September, the FCC also updated rules on spacecraft launch and orbital debris management, voting that satellite operators must remove satellites in low Earth orbit 5 years after their mission ends, instead of 25.

However, such actions have raised questions about whether the FCC has sufficient authority to approve such rules. So far, Congress has made no gesture to extend or extend that power.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel appeared to implicitly acknowledge those concerns in a speech to the Satellite Industry Association, announcing that the FCC would create a new office dedicated to handling space activities.

“The changes I’m announcing today are not about taking on new responsibilities at the FCC,” he said. “Their purpose is to better carry out our existing legislative responsibilities and free up resources to focus on our mission.”

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