The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Public Notice to provide guidance concerning FCC licensing of spectrum for use by small satellites, including satellites that fall within the categories of pico-satellites, nano-satellites and cubesats.
The advent of such small satellite designs has brought with it dramatically lower launch costs, enabling a larger range of organizations to directly launch satellites. Institutions such as universities and research organizations that previously found it cost prohibitive to launch their own satellite can now participate in the exploration of space. Many of these participants may be unfamiliar with the spectrum licensing, scheduling and other requirements attendant on satellites. This Public Notice seeks to alert affected parties of these requirements and thus aid small satellite operators in the planning necessary for a successful launch operation.
The Commission’s rules set forth three different procedures for licensing satellites. The Commission’s Part 25 rules are the primary vehicle for satellite licensing, and are used for licensing a wide range of satellite operations, including commercial communication and remote sensing satellites. The Commission’s Part 5 rules cover experimental operations. The Commission’s Part 97 rules cover amateur radio service satellite operations.
Currently, many small satellite missions involve experimental operations i.e. scientific and research missions, including missions conducted under government contract and many operate in amateur frequency bands. These satellites are therefore licensed under Parts 5 or 97 of FCC rules. Because of the significant interest in small satellites in the amateur and research communities, the primary focus of this Public Notice is on such operations, although certain guidance in this Public Notice is also applicable to Part 25 licensing.
Specific satellite authorization issues are covered in greater detail in the full public notice at