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Licensing and Regulations

Scope and Description

This topic covers administrative, legal, and regulatory requirements related to satellite communications, data transmission, and remote sensing. It is essential when planning and executing a small satellite mission to obtain the licenses and approvals from the proper organizations in a timely manner. With multiple agencies requiring licenses, and the approval processes potentially taking months (or years) to complete, it is essential that smallsat team are thorough and diligent in navigating the compliance process.

Resources in this topic area are primarily guidelines for obtaining approval from governing agencies and example licensing applications for smallsat missions.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

  • Starting in the early stages of your project lifecycle, establish and maintain communication with the relevant regulatory organizations (e.g., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU)).
  • For smallsat missions, typically it takes a full year to go through the complete licensing process. This includes submitting the initial applications, waiting for responses, correcting submissions, and providing all necessary data and required materials to each governing agency. It is highly recommended to start the licensing process as soon as possible to prevent delays in schedule.
  • For NASA launch opportunities, obtaining launch approval from NASA is the first step in the licensing process. Once you have received approval for launch and have defined the spacecraft and ground station communications system, you can submit requests for the remaining licenses that are required.
  • The licensing process can take over a year - start early!

Resources

White Paper
Arizona State University

This resource provides information regarding the data protection strategy for a cubesat mission. Protecting ... the transmission of data over amateur frequency bands is essential to mission success.

White Paper
Arizona State University

This resource provides an example of the FCC's Experimental Radio Station Construction Permit and License ... completed by ASU. This license permits the ASU licensee to use and operate the radio transmitting facilities detailed in the FCC filing.

White Paper
Secure World Foundation

This resource provides an overview of the legal and regulatory issues related to small satellite missions ... and provides useful examples and processes on how to handle them. Section 4 of the document outlines launch services, space insurance, and in-orbit legal and policy issues.

This FCC Fact Sheet details the proposed change to the Commission's part 25 satellite licensing rules ... to create an alternative application process for small satellites. Previously, smallsats were subject to fees and regulatory requirements that were originally developed for expensive, long-lived missions. The requirements for the types of smallsats that would be affected by this change are detailed on the first page of this document.

An example form sent to the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) requesting transmission frequencies ... for uplink and downlink of a cubesat mission.

White Paper
IARU

An example response from the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) coordinating the frequencies for ... uplink and downlink for a cubesat mission.

White Paper
Arizona State University

An example application sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a 3U cubesat ... mission remote sensing license.

White Paper
Arizona State University

An example waiver sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requesting earth ... imaging permission for the Phoenix cubesat. The waiver includes the questions and ASU's answers to obtain earth imaging permission for the cubesat mission.

White Paper
Arizona State University

This document provides advice and insight into frequency licensing from ASU's Phoenix cubesat team. This ... includes significant detail and specific instructions for navigating the frequency licensing process with the FCC.

White Paper
Eleni M. Sims et al.

This document provides detailed policy information on smallsat compliance. It describes the separation ... of responsibilities between the launch provider and the satellite owner, and it provides the specific policies for various agencies and organizations such as the DoD, FCC, FAA, NASA, etc.

White Paper
NOAA

This website holds a variety of useful resources including forms, guides, specs, and examples pertaining ... to NOAA and the United States Department of Commerce. A license application example is provided outlining the information required to obtain a license to operate a remote sensing space system.

White Paper
FCC

This NASA recommended document provides useful guidance on obtaining a license from the Federal Communications ... Commission (FCC). It answers important questions such as; who is eligible, how to apply for a license, and what information is required.

This introductory document outlines the basic concepts and processes involved in developing cubesats. ... Chapter 5, titled "Licensing Procedures", specifically discusses which licenses are necessary to obtain for cubesat missions. There are multiple agencies that require specific licenses and this document is a good starting point for an overview on obtaining the correct licenses.

Software Tool
NASA

"The Debris Assessment Software (DAS) utility provides data that can verify compliance of a spacecraft, ... upper stage, and/or payload with NASA's requirements for limiting debris generation, spacecraft vulnerability, postmission lifetime, and entry safety. Successful verification of a design in DAS demonstrates compliance with NASA debris mitigation requirements."

White Paper
Secure World Foundation

In Chapter 3, this handbook provides useful information on the responsibilities of organizations launching ... space missions. Chapters 1 and 2 provide valuable political, legal, policy, and regulatory context regarding these responsibilities. The content in Chapter 3 on licensing, operations, and end-of-life are particularly useful for smallsat developers.

White Paper
US Department of Commerce

"This guidebook provides basic information to help commercial space organizations, especially emerging ... entrepreneurial firms, considering business in the international market. It is intended to serve as a starting point in the preparation for the export control process." Given the international nature of the smallsat industry and the often complex, expensive, and time consuming nature of export control processes, this guidebook is a valuable resource for any US-based smallsat developer or commercial provider of smallsat products.

Article
Lynne Montgomery et al.

"This paper gives an overview of the licensing and authorization regimes in the United States as they ... apply to small satellite operations." The licensing requirements imposed on small satellite developers are constantly changing and this paper provides a thorough but concise description of them as of 2020.

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