FCC investigates California startup for unauthorised launch of mini satellites

FCC investigates California startup for unauthorised launch of mini satellites

It carried a lot of cool stuff into orbit, including the Arkyd-6 satellite which could lead to asteroid mining, as well as the first commercial satellite for Finland.

Swarm told the FCC in an appendix to its experimental radio authorization application that it was seeking to demonstrate "two-way communications satellites to serve as a cost-effective low-data rate Internet of Things (IoT) network connectivity solution for remote and mobile sensors".

The Swarm Technologies' satellites were reportedly launched on a rocket operated by the Indian space agency ISRO on January 12.

In December, the Federal Communications Commission denied Swarm Technologies, a stealthy startup headed by a former Google employee, permission to launch four of its tiny satellites.

The company seemed to accept this, and developed a new design in keeping with the FCC's standards, so there are several open questions as to how the satellites got into space.

Swarm Technologies attempted to mitigate the small size of their first satellites by equipping them with Global Positioning System receivers and passive radar reflectors, but the FCC still rejected the application on the grounds that, in the event of a software failure, the satellites would become a piece of noncommunicative debris that could seriously damage other spacecraft.

The ISRO even noted that the SpaceBees successfully reached Earth orbit the same day - and N2YO, a website dedicated to satellite tracking, shows the SpaceBees in their current orbits, which are nearly identical to those laid out by Swarm Technologies' application, IEEE Spectrum notes. At only 10 centimetres across and 2.8 centimetres tall, they are too small to reliably track, making it hard to be certain they won't crash into other satellites. "Anything that size impacting at orbital velocities can be catastrophic".

Swarm's next launch, planned for April, is now in jeopardy. If confirmed, it would be the first time a company has done so without FCC approval.

According to an investigation by IEEE Spectrum, neither the Indian Space Research Organization nor Spaceflight, the firm that supplied the satellites, could confirm that they check FCC licences for all customers. "It is the responsibility of our customers to secure all FCC licenses". The FCC just responded in kind by formally rejecting a launch that Swarm was planning for next month, citing the four unauthorized satellites in space which are now being investigated. CEO Peter Beck, last seen sending a giant disco ball into orbit, issued a statement saying, "Rocket Lab will not launch spacecraft that do not have the relevant regulatory approvals or licenses".

Swarm Technologies has not yet replied to New Scientist's request for comment.

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