FCC Sets $900,000 Fine For An Unlawful Satellite Launch

Shakti - Dec 21, 2018


FCC Sets $900,000 Fine For An Unlawful Satellite Launch

A company is fined for performing unlawful satellite launch with $900,000 fine and other future agreements set by FCC after the issue was discovered.

Swarm Technologies has confirmed to make a payment of US$900,000 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury for launching four satellites without approval from the government in this January. After investigating this incident, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) settled this penalty, along with a five-year compliance plan and a commitment to submit extra documents for further launching plans

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A Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket, from which Swarm’s satellites were launched.

This fledgling company is aiming to send a hundred of satellites into orbit to transmit Earth-covered internet. The practice took place on Jan 12 at an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket with four teeny satellites named SpaceBEEs. Soon after the launching, this unauthorized action was discovered by FCC, the agency that provides companies with access to the radio frequencies to communicate with their satellites. FCC denied Swarm’s application to get a license due to SpaceBEEs inappropriate size with only 4-inch length in all three dimensions. It is believed that the four satellites were too small to track with the Space Surveillance Network from Earth.

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An illustration of 4 SpaceBEEs satellites

Two months after the event, FCC looked into the launching and found out that the Swarm had performed an unauthorized launch and furthermore, used Georgia ground communication stations to connect with their spacecraft for more than a week when they were in orbit. Along with it, they had done several illegal tests with sounding balloons and other gears.

Besides paying the fine, Swarm is required to submit all the related documents to FCC every launch within the next 3 years. These pre-launch documents must cover all details of the launch vehicle which carries the spacecraft, launching time and location, launch coordinator and their contact. These reports should be done and submitted in five days after Swarm gets a ride on a rocket, or in 45 days till the flight. Other reports have to be submitted when the spacecraft is brought to the rocket, when they are set up and when the launch is about to happen.

About the compliance plan, Swarm has to come up with a plan in the next two months and appoint an officer to ensure it obeys every regulation related to the launch. Due to this issue, setting defined checklists and procedures is a must so that all employees would follow and all requirements are met.

Michael O’Rielly from FCC reported that this was the second agreement after the first one had been considered too low. According to Swarm’s CEO - Sara Spangelo,

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For future launch, FCC will review every application from Swarm case by case. However, it seems the company might get a license since the agency has approved for three Swarm spacecraft to launch recently. These satellites are said to fly to space through a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully in this December. This is a one-time license that Swarm gets from September 24, 2018, to March 24, 2019.

However, these settlements would act as a useful impediment for different spacecraft companies, especially the newcomers every time they are about to launch satellite illegally. Complicated paperwork to submit will lower their productivity. Up to a million dollar fine is a huge amount as well. Above all, bad company reputation would be the best point in this penalty. O’Rielly stated:

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This April, FCC also released an advisory to warn other satellite company not to follow Swarm’s path.

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