1. Answer

    Before launch, an FCC license is required for transmissions and reception of radiocommunications with satellites and satellite systems. 47 CFR section 25.102(a). This includes communications to and from any satellite that is not a government satellite (the FCC does not license government satellites). For FCC licensing specifically, the documents that have been released and will be released as part of this Transparency Initiative are a great start to help understand the FCC processes and what to expect in terms of application materials and costs. Then you can start preparing the materials for your application. Bureau staff are glad to help guide applicants to useful information, and try to identify potential issues or concerns, but we can’t give legal or technical advice or fill out materials for applicants. Some applicants find it helpful to engage legal counsel or other consultants to help them through the process and/or address specific issues. **It is also important to understand that there may be several regulatory aspects to your satellite operations, not just FCC licensing, and there are other approvals that you may need on the regulatory side, such as approval from Department of Commerce, NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing office.

  2. Answer

    The Space Station Licensing Processes document describes the licenses covered under part 25, 5, and 97 of the Commission’s rules. Generally, part 25 authorizations are for commercial services with license terms of 15 years. Part 25 also includes “Small Satellite” and “Small Spacecraft” licenses, which have six-year terms, lower fees and shorter processing times. Part 5 licenses are for experimental purposes and have terms of two to five years. Lastly, part 97 licenses are for amateur space stations. Note: the recording of the Space Bureau's Transparency Initiative Open House may be helpful to review.

  3. Answer

    A part 25 space station license is required to launch and operate a satellite (space station) that is not controlled by the U.S. government, provides for operations up to 15 years, and can provide protection from interference from other spectrum users. In contrast, experimental authorizations under part 5 are valid for two to five years and generally do not authorize any form of commercial service and are on a non-interference basis. 47 CFR section 5.3.

    Part 25 provides the opportunity for non-U.S. licensed satellites to communicate with earth stations licensed by the FCC in the same manner as an FCC-licensed satellite through a process called “U.S. market access.” An operator of a satellite that is not licensed by the FCC can file a petition for declaratory ruling to access the U.S. market using the non-U.S.-licensed space station. The licensee of a U.S.-licensed earth station can also apply to communicate with a specific non-U.S.-licensed space station.

  4. Answer

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirms that an FCC license has been obtained prior to launch. If you have a launch scheduled, and are unsure of the Bureau’s licensing process, contact us at satinfo@fcc.gov as soon as possible to discuss licensing requirements. The timeframes for processing can vary depending on a variety of factors, but the sooner we have an application on file the better, and the more likely that we’ll be able to process the application in advance of the date when you need to have your license in hand.

  5. Answer

    Applications must be filed electronically via the FCC’s International Communications Filing System (ICFS) for part 25 applications. Part 5 experimental applications are filed through the FCC’s Experimental Licensing System (ELS).

    Additionally, each Authorization Holder must certify as to the accuracy of the information provided. 

  6. Answer

    An ex parte presentation is a communication, written or oral, directed to the merits or outcome of a proceeding that, if written, is not served on all the parties to a proceeding, and if oral, is made without giving all the parties to the proceeding advance notice and an opportunity for them to be present. The FCC’s ex parte rules protect the fairness of the FCC’s proceedings by assuring that FCC decisions are not influenced by impermissible off-the-record communications, while ensuring the FCC has sufficient flexibility to obtain the information necessary for making expert decisions. The ex parte rules can be found at 47 CFR section 1.1200, and the Commission has published Ex Parte Resources to guide applicants on filings and suspected violations. Applicants should familiarize themselves with the FCC’s ex parte rules and be mindful of the status of their application as either a restricted or a permit-but-disclose proceeding.

  7. Answer

    As explained in more detail in the Space Bureau’s Transparency Initiative documents, there are a few different processes for authorizing satellites at the FCC. The most common are the “part 25” process and the “part 5” experimental process. The experimental licensing process is generally limited to testing or demonstration missions and is managed by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET). The part 25 process, which refers to rule section – part 25 - can cover any type of mission, including commercial missions, and is handled by the Space Bureau. Within the “Part 25” is a more streamlined process for small satellites meeting certain criteria, like short on-orbit lifetime. These criteria are set out in the FCC rules, and we’ve also posted them under Small Satellite and Small Spacecraft Licensing on the website in connection with the Transparency initiative. Small satellites meeting these criteria are exempt from some of the procedures we would normally use for non-geostationary orbit satellites, and also have lower fees than other part 25 licensees.

  8. Answer

    Even if a commercial satellite or system does not fit all the qualifying criteria for the small satellite process, there is still likely a path forward for licensing, it will just be under part 25. The Commission can consider waivers of its rules for good cause, but those are in limited circumstances. If you have questions regarding the basis for certain rules and requirements, like the small satellite qualifying criteria, for example, there is usually a very detailed discussion in the FCC’s order or orders adopting those rules.

  9. Answer

    It is advised that applicants try to meet the application requirements to hasten reviews. Applicants can seek waivers if special circumstances warrant a deviation from the general rule and such deviation would better serve the public interest. Generally, the Commission will grant a waiver of its rules if the relief requested would not undermine the policy objective of the rule in question and would otherwise serve the public interest.

  10. Answer

    If you are filing a license for an atypical mission we encourage you to engage with the Space Bureau at satinfo@fcc.gov early, even earlier than the recommended applications allowance time. With ample time (more than six months prior to filing), we can support questions, and better prepare you for a successful application process.

  11. Answer

    FCC staff cannot tell you which radiofrequencies you should use for satellite communications; but we can direct you to the Table of Frequency Allocations as a starting point to see which frequencies are allocated for satellite communications, and within those, which may be suitable for the type of service being provided. Operators should be aware that some frequencies allocated to satellites are also shared with terrestrial or federal operations, for example, and as a result are likely to require coordination. For new commercial operators of non-geostationary orbit satellites, we often see requests to use frequency bands that are shared with federal operators. Use of such shared bands cannot be guaranteed and requires successful coordination with federal operations prior to action on the license application. We recommend starting the regulatory process early to allow for necessary coordination for use of those frequencies.

  12. Answer

    Once the application is filed through the International Communications Filing System (ICFS), there is an intake process where a file number is assigned, and we confirm that the application fee has been paid. If the application is a request for a new satellite or system, a call sign will be assigned as well.

    An initial legal and engineering review of the application is then conducted, to determine if the application is substantially complete and can otherwise be accepted for filing. If so, then most applications then are placed on public notice for a period of 30 days – with additional time for responses and replies if there are comments or objections filed. The FCC proceeds with review of the application, including a more detailed technical and legal analysis, and will review and address any comments or objections.

    In the case of a grant, this review will also include drafting conditions to the grant. It is also at this time that coordination would take place with other bureaus and offices at the FCC, as well as with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), for example, depending on the frequency bands requested. Once all coordination is complete, the Bureau (typically the Satellite Programs and Policy Division) will release a decisional document. Often this takes the form of a “grant stamp” with a list of frequencies authorized, orbital location information, conditions, and other details. In some cases, there will be a written order addressing the application request.

    It is extremely important for licensees to carefully review the license, and associated grant conditions and ensure compliance with those conditions and the Commission’s rules. The grant is also based on the information provided in the application, so all of the information in the application regarding how the satellite or system will operate is also incorporated into the grant. If information provided in the application changes at any time while the application is pending, or after the grant then the applicant or licensee is obligated by rule to notify the FCC.

  13. Answer

    An ITU filing is a required element of a space station application. The earlier the ITU filing is submitted, the better the filing’s place in the ITU queue and the less coordination that may be necessary before notification. The Bureau recommends filing part 25 applications with large numbers of satellites at least two years prior to launch. For small satellites and experiments, 6-8 months prior to launch is recommended.

  14. Answer

    The name of the satellite network is recorded in the ITU Space Network Systems (SNS) database and is used to identify the satellite network. It is a mandatory item for all networks and stations. Guidance on the selection of an ITU network name is available. Email joseph.hill@fcc.gov and kathryn.medley@fcc.gov to obtain an FCC issued satellite network name as soon as possible. This name will need to be included in the FCC ITU Filing Cover Letter and in the Cost Recovery Letter. If you do not obtain a FCC issued satellite network name before submitting these ITU related documents, you will be asked to update and resubmit them with the issued satellite network name.

    The Bureau additionally recommends consulting the Earth Station FAQ page for licensing related questions.

Thursday, November 16, 2023