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New bill imposes new and odious regulation on private space stations and satellites

Congress and the FCC to private space: Nice business you got here.
Congress and the FCC to private space: “Nice business you
got here. Shame if something happened to it.”

On December 8, 2022, two bills, sponsored by both a Democrat and a Republican, were introduced in the House to give the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the power to regulate and even block the launch of commercial private space stations, while also giving that agency the power to require companies to meet its arbitrary regulations on de-orbiting defunct satellites and stations.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and the ranking member, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), said their legislation is needed to modernize the FCC for the rapidly changing space industry. Their two bills — the Satellite and Telecommunications Streamlining Act and Secure Space Act — seek to update regulations covering foreign ownership, space sustainability, license processing timelines, and satellite spectrum sharing.

The key language in the first bill [pdf] is this:

…not later than 1 year after the date on which a written application is submitted to the Commission [FCC], the Commission shall make a determination whether to grant such application for a license for

(A) a nongeostationary orbit space station or space-station constellation and an earth station or earth stations;
(B) a nongeostationary orbit space station and the blanket-licensed earth stations that will operate with the nongeostationary orbit space station; or
(C) a nongeostationary orbit space-station constellation and the blanket-licensed earth stations that will operate with the nongeostationary orbit space-station constellation.
[Also:] …a geostationary orbit space station or space-station constellation and earth stations.

Under past regulatory rules, the term “space station” can apply to any orbiting spacecraft or satellite, not just manned space stations, which means that the FCC will have the power to yay or nay any private satellite or constellation or manned space station, should this bill become law.

This bill also gives the FCC the power to limit the number of a company’s stations, their lifespan, and many of aspects of its operation, including future modifications or upgrades. The law also limits the length of any license to just fifteen years, though it also gives the FCC the power to issue a fifteen year renewal, if it chooses to do so.

Finally, the bill gives the FCC the power to block any commercial operation that astronomers think will interfere with their ground-based radio telescopes.

Though the bill has many good intentions, such as making sure companies do due diligence to make sure their orbiting spacecraft can be de-orbited safely when it is time to do so, its long term effects will be to stifle this new industry. The bill essentially codifies some of the extra powers the FCC claimed for itself in September related to de-orbiting satellites, powers that were not included in its original legal framework. With this bill, they will be, but the bill also hands the FCC much more power.

The bottom line: The final decision on the launch, construction, and final deposition of any private orbiting facility would be made not by the owners of that facility, but by the FCC, a federal government agency. The opportunities for corruption and the abuse of power are truly endless.

Both bills still have to work their way through committee approvals, and then be okayed by both the House and Senate and then signed by the President. Since no one really pays much attention to these nitty-gritty details any longer (except to possibly extract their own pound of flesh), nor does anyone in Congress really care about the long term interests of the nation or its citizenry, I expect these bills to eventually pass, but likely in a worse form then they are now.

In the end, these regulations will most likely become the reason future spacefarers will revolt against Earth rule, especially when the FCC tries to shut down what they think are still viable space facilities.

Conscious Choice cover

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  • David Ross

    It is blisteringly obvious that Seattle and maybe Redmond wrote Rodgers’ legislation for her. She may as well stay home and let Bezos assume her seat.
    By “ground-based radio telescopes” and “astronomers”, feh. Actual astronomers know that space telescopes are better. Instead consider Hawaii; their leverage is lessened if nobody needs the mountain their forefathers stumbled onto.
    Ultimately: spacemen as do not exist cannot revolt.

  • Jay

    McMorris-Rodgers is my representative and this is a garbage bill. I read the bill, and as David Ross said, someone else wrote this bill for her. I bet you a Coke that Dish Network, or DirectTV, or both, wrote this bill. She waited until she was re-elected to push this tripe through. Since the House has swung Republican, she has a lot more power now with her seniority. I bet she will become the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year and this deal will seal it.
    This bill gives power to an agency that does not deserve it, it is way out of their realm, and would turn space into an Home Owners Association.

  • John hare

    I would suggest that this is the sort of thing that sends business offshore. Not US companies moving, but rather foreign companies taking and making market share. Much as other nations were launching US satellites until recently, it can happen again.

    Personal concern is that some country will get its social and business act together to surge ahead. While not being interested in dealing with US obstruction.

  • Phill O

    Anything that does not ensure that China follows suit is smoke blowing in the wind, IMHO.

  • James Street

    SBF did not kill himself.

  • Cotour

    Related: Why no smoking in space? Or can you? How will human compulsions, perversions and other interesting human characteristics be dealt with on long space journeys / colonization?


    I cannot figure out whether this short article is serious or not, written for the Daily Caller by “Scoops Delacroix”.

    Is this a serious editorial commentary? Or sarcasm mocking a weak grown man who is unable to control of his compulsions for the duration of a plane flight? (To my thinking the latter is the point, but I am not certain.)

    There is apparently nothing that says, “I am a masculine Man”, as per Scoops Delacroix, like forcing others without choice to ingest and participate in your poisonous compulsion while in an enclosed space while at 35,000 feet?

    Smoke if you choose, but please don’t force me to smoke with you. Is it just me?

  • Kevin

    It’s safe to assume that someone other than the representative/senator always writes these bills. Full disclosure: I didn’t read the bill. The summary reads as if this is a power grab by the FCC. Assuming that is so, I wonder which former industry execs now have power in the FCC…

  • Jay

    Did you ever see the British show “UFO”? They were smoking everywhere, on the space flights, and even on the moon.

  • pzatchok

    My question is simple.

    If they can not handle smoking a cigarette on a space station what will they do if a real fire breaks out?

  • The FCC is ABSOLUTELY the wrong agency to do this. I think in part that the selection is because the FCC is politicized in that of the 5 commissioners 3 are from the POTUS’s party and the other two from the opposition and can be more easily manipulated to provided outcomes not based on technology and neutrality but on politics.

    I would look at Elon Musk’s, and therefore SpaceX’s, current situation. Elon has caused some consternation amongst those in the Administration. I am sure that there are many that would like SpaceX’s Starship program crippled or even destroyed unless Elon bows to the Leftist regarding Twitter. This bill would allow governance of spaceflight by fiat rather than technical rules.

    This Bill needs to die.

    As to an agency to provide governance in this area, the FAA would be the better choice. However, the rules need to be purely technical with no politics (quit laughing). And maybe rename the FAA to the Federal Aerospace Administration.

  • Edward

    pzatchok asked: “If they can not handle smoking a cigarette on a space station what will they do if a real fire breaks out?

    There is some experience with this problem:


    Mir also suffered a depressurization incident when one of its cargo ships struck one of the modules.

    A robotic cargo ship crashed into the Russian Mir space station yesterday during a docking test. The three-man U.S.-Russian crew escaped injury, but the collision punched a hole in a laboratory module where American Michael Foale was working, crippled the station’s power supply and left the future of the aging space station in doubt.

  • wayne

    George Harrison –
    “Got My Mind Set On You” (Version II)

    “It’s going take Money, a whole lotta spending money,
    to do it right.
    It’s going to take Time, a whole lotta precious time,
    It’s going to take Patience and Time,
    To do it right.”

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