It’s not every day that FCC proposes an entirely new section of rules to address an emerging technology. But it could be a signal of the technology’s potential when it does. Such is the case for ISAM – or in-space service, assembly and manufacturing. On January 25, 2024, the Commission published a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Draft NPRM) in which it proposed a licensing framework for space stations performing ISAM activities.
Among other things, the FCC is seeking comments from the public and industry on its proposal to create a new section in its rules — titled “ISAM Space Station Applications” — that would outline the requirements that ISAM space station applicants must meet. complete to obtain a license from the FCC. Alternatively, qualifying ISAM space station operators may continue to apply for authorization under the simplified small satellite and small spacecraft processes.
Given the still nascent nature of ISAM technologies, the Commission characterizes its proposed regulatory approach as “iterative, evolving with industry capabilities and needs.”
The draft NPRM addresses a number of other ISAM regulatory issues, including a proposal to define “ISAM space station” as “a space station that has the primary purpose of performing servicing, assembly, and/or manufacturing activities in space used in orbit. , on the surface of celestial bodies and/or in transmission between these regimes.”
In addition, the Commission proposes to exempt ISAM space stations from the existing processing round requirements for non-geostationary, NGSO-like operations and first service requirements for geosynchronous-like operations. Consistent with the treatment of small satellites and small spacecraft, the draft NPRM also proposes a one-year grace period for posting guarantees by ISAM operators.
The FCC ultimately ends up maintaining the same orbital debris mitigation requirements for ISAM operators as for other space station operators and invites comment on whether it should impose additional requirements on ISAM space station applicants that conduct debris remediation activities to mitigate risks possible.
Finally, the Commission tentatively concludes that various communication activities in support of ISAM could potentially work within some existing service allocations, and therefore proposes to consider the requests of ISAM operators for the use of frequencies on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the process his for review. frequency usage requirements for small satellites and small spacecraft.
The draft NPRM will be voted on at the Commission’s February open meeting on February 15. Advocacy by industry and other stakeholders may now and then result in changes to the draft, although large-scale changes are rare. If approved, comments will be made 45 days after the article is published in the Federal Register.
The proceeding represents a unique opportunity to “get in on the ground floor” and influence how a nascent technology is regulated for years to come.
Jennifer Hindin is co-chair of Wiley’s Telecom, Media & Technology Practice and chair of the Space and Satellite Group. Kathryne Dickerson and Henry Gola are partners at Space and Satellite Group. Wiley’s team provides strategic advice to clients on a variety of complex regulatory, transactional, litigation and compliance matters in the satellite, media and telecommunications fields.