Friday, September 7, 2018

"Launching Rogue Satellites Into Space Was a ‘Mistake’"

Atlantic:

This was an exciting moment for Spangelo, the CEO of a young start-up called Swarm Technologies. Swarm had secured a spot on the Indian rocket for its product: a set of four small satellites nicknamed Spacebees. The Spacebees are prototypes for Swarm’s ambitious plan to provide internet access to areas without it. When the satellites successfully made it into orbit, Spangelo felt “super relieved and excited,” she says.

Two months later, Spangelo received a curt email. It was from the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. government agency that regulates all satellite launches by American companies, whether they occur on U.S. soil or elsewhere. The FCC, the message said, wouldn’t review any of Swarm’s applications for future satellite launches until officials figured out what had happened with this one. The agency, it turned out, had denied Swarm’s request to launch the Spacebees last year. Swarm did it anyway.

An exciting achievement for Spangelo became an unprecedented event in American history. As far as anyone can remember, the launch of the Spacebees marked the first time a U.S. company had sent a commercial satellite into orbit without permission from federal regulators.

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“Others have been granted applications after launching their satellites, so we were still hopeful at that point.”