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FAA and FCC now competing for the honor of regulating commercial space more

Two stories today illustrate again the growing appetite of federal alphabet agencies to grab more power, even if that power is not included in their statutory authority.

First, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed new rules governing the de-orbiting of the upper stages of rockets by commercial launch companies.

The FAA is proposing a new rule requiring commercial space companies to dispose of their rocket upper stages to limit the creation of more space debris. Five disposal methods are allowed: a controlled or uncontrolled deorbit within certain time limits, putting the stage into a less congested orbit or sending it into an Earth-escape orbit, or retrieving it. A 90-day public comment period will begin once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.

Though this “appears to implement the updated U.S. Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices issued in 2019,” it upgrades it from a “practice” that the government requests companies to follow to a “rule” they must follow. It also expands the power of the FAA to regulate commercial rocket companies, setting a new precedent of control that I guarantee with time will expand further.

Not to be outdone in this power grab, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) added its own new satellite rules to the satellite licenses of two constellations run by the companies Iceye and Planet. The rules however have nothing to do with regulating the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is the FCC’s sole purpose according to the law that created it:

The FCC issued authorizations Aug. 31 to Iceye and Planet, updating their licenses to add new satellites. Iceye, which operates a constellation of synthetic aperture radar imaging satellites, added eight satellites to its license, while Planet added seven of its upcoming Pelican high-resolution imaging satellites to its constellation.

Both licenses now include provisions requiring the companies to coordinate with the National Science Foundation (NSF) “to achieve a mutually acceptable agreement to mitigate the impact of its satellites… on optical ground-based astronomy.” The companies are required to report to the FCC annually whether they have reached a coordination agreement with the NSF and what steps they have taken to mitigate the effects of their satellites on astronomy, unless the NSF concludes they have no concerns about those spacecraft.

In other words, the FCC now thinks its power includes protecting astronomical research, favoring that particular group over commercial space companies. Once again, mitigating satellite interference with astronomy might be a good idea, but where does the FCC get the authority to impose such mitigation on satellite companies? It has no such authority by law.

These stories demonstrate once again the uncontrolled expansion of power by the federal bureaucracy, on all levels. Just because something might be a good idea should not be a reason to allow unelected federal regulatory agencies to require it. We are allowing it, however, in more and more ways across more and more federal agecnies.

The U.S. was founded as a nation of laws and limited government. It is that no longer. Instead, we are now a nation of unlimited government that no law controls.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Ferris

    All the three- and four-letter federal agencies should have their rules and regulations abilities eliminated. Instead, they should have roles that are strictly advisory in nature. That is, they can make suggestions and provide advice to Congress, but Congress must pass the rules and regulations, and those rules and regulations would then need the signature from the President in order for them to become enforceable.

    These agencies are currently operating without any restrictions or oversight from the American people.

    As with taxation in colonial times, No Regulation Without Representation!

  • Ferris, would you like someone like Hank “Guam might tip over” Johnson making technical calls? I will agree that some of theses agencies are over-stepping their Congressionally mandated scope. There needs to be more Congressional oversight of these agencies but when it gets down into the technical weeds, some of the Congress critters have no clue and would probably want to make “unscientific” amendments to the rules and regulations brought to them by emoting lunatics (extreme environmentalists, health nuts, chemtrail believers, etc.).

    On another note, the FCC on this point might claim that since light is an electromagnetic phenomenon, they can regulate the blocking of starlight.

  • Ferris

    BillB, I hope you realize that Congress has no exclusive on stupidity or stupid people. The various agencies have an over abundance as well.

    The agencies, however, are acting with impunity, without any oversight from the citizenry.

    Voters should routinely vote out idiots like Hank Johnson, but fail to do so. They do not even have the opportunity to do so with the agencies.

  • Boobah

    As I understand it, before the 1930s the executive agencies didn’t have nearly as much leeway; a law that required an executive agency to codify into something actionable would have been struck as down as too vague to be constitutional; after all, the Constitution places the legislative power in Congress’s collective hands, and non-delegation was the law of the land.

    Later, in the 80s, we got Chevron which said that agencies could interpret their vague instructions (‘laws,’ as passed by Congress) more-or-less however they liked as long as that interpretation didn’t contradict Congress directly (and wasn’t ruled unconstitutional.) Court watchers have claimed that there’s been suggestions that the current Court has started to tire of Chevron deference, but they haven’t actually struck it down.

    And until they do, we’ll continue to get absurdities where executive agencies ‘reinterpret’ their guiding directives to mean ever-expanding portfolios.

    And regarding BillB’s objection, it’s worth pointing out that congress critters already meet with and hire specialists to explain the intricacies of all sorts of laws; there’s nothing keeping them from doing so in the areas where the agencies currently set policy.

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