New regulations from the FCC came into effect on the 19th August, streamlining and reducing the cost of licensing smallsat systems for commercial use. This regulatory change appears prescient, arriving at a moment when the smallsat industry requires support. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the global economy in its entirety, but some sections have been impacted more deeply than others. The small launch and small satellite industry has been repeatedly identified by the Department of Defense as one of the most vulnerable sections of the entire defense industrial base.
Harry Boneham, Associate Analyst at GlobalData, comments, “this new regulatory change will reduce the cost of obtaining a license for a smallsat system by 93.6%, from $471,575 to just $30,000. This sizeable saving, combined with shorter processing times, may prove a lifeline for smallsat companies during COVID-19. The savings resultant from this regulatory change, in addition to CARES Act and Payment Protection Plan funds, will allow companies to retain a highly skilled workforce throughout the current crisis and will sustain a competitive environment in the industry beyond COVID-19.”
However, in the long term, greater regulation could be on the horizon. With an increasingly crowded sky, driven by rising demand for satellite capabilities such as broadband, there is growing concern regarding the issue of space debris.
Boneham continues, “an increasingly dense sky not only translates to more debris in orbit, but also renders a collisional cascade, where collisions create debris which generate further collisions, more likely. Also known as the Kessler effect, this would render use of space difficult, or even impossible, for decades. With large constellations such as SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s 3,200 satellites Kuiper, combined with the increase in smallsat systems expected due to this regulatory change, the need for greater traffic control and oversight will only increase, lest we lose access to space for generations.”