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ARRL Urges Regulatory Regime to Keep Non-Amateur Satellites off Amateur Spectrum


ARRL wants the FCC to facilitate bona fide Amateur Satellite experimentation by educational institutions under Part 97 Amateur Service rules, while precluding the exploitation of amateur spectrum by commercial, small-satellite users authorized under Part 5 Experimental rules. In comments filed on July 9 in an FCC proceeding to streamline licensing procedures for small satellites, ARRL suggested that the FCC adopt a “a bright line test” to define and distinguish satellites that should be permitted to operate under Amateur-Satellite rules, as opposed to non-amateur satellites that could be authorized under Part 5 Experimental rules.

“Specifically, it is possible to clarify which types of satellite operations are properly considered amateur experiments conducted pursuant to a Part 97 Amateur Radio license, and [those] which should be considered experimental, non-amateur facilities, properly authorized by a Part 5 authorization.”

ARRL said it views as “incorrect and overly strict’ the standard the FCC has applied since 2013 to define what constitutes an Amateur Satellite, forcing academic projects that once would have been operated in the Amateur Satellite Service to apply for a Part 5 Experimental authorization instead. This approach was based, ARRL said, on “the false rationale” that a satellite launched by an educational institution must be “non-amateur” because instructors were being compensated and would thus have a “pecuniary interest” in the satellite project. ARRL said well-established Commission jurisprudence contradicts this view.

ARRL told the FCC that justification exists to expand the category of satellite experiments conducted under an Amateur Radio license, “especially those in which a college, university, or secondary school teacher is a sponsor.” But, ARRL continued, a compelling need exists to discourage Part 5 Experimental authorizations for satellites intended to operate in amateur allocations by non-amateur sponsors, “absent compelling showings of need.”

“There is no doubt but that Amateur Radio should be protected against exploitation by commercial entities, and there should be a compelling justification for a Part 5 Experimental license issued for a satellite experiment to be conducted in amateur spectrum,” ARRL said. “A defining criterion for this latter category should be that there is no other spectrum practically available in lieu of Amateur Radio allocations.”

ARRL noted that International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) policy regarding satellites operated in Amateur Radio spectrum is only to coordinate satellites where licensees and control operators are radio amateurs and having a “mission and operation” consistent with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Radio Regulations’ definitions of the Amateur and Amateur-Satellite services.

Resolution 659, adopted at World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) 2015, included protective language against non-amateur satellites operating in Amateur-Satellite spectrum, and the exclusion of any amateur bands from spectrum that might be considered at a future WRC for allocation to the Space Operation Service.

IARU announced in 2017 that it would no longer coordinate non-amateur satellite operations and adopted new satellite frequency coordination guidelines. Under that policy, educational and university satellites may be coordinated only when an identified amateur component exists, and the mission is to teach and train students in satellite communication and building and launching satellites. The individual responsible for the satellite’s communications must be an Amateur Radio licensee. IARU will also continue to coordinate space stations operating under an amateur license and having “a clear amateur mission,” as well as satellites where a licensing administration directs the use of an amateur band.

ARRL asserted that incorporating Amateur Radio in experiential learning using small satellites — e.g., CubeSats — is good for Amateur Radio, for students, and for the advancement of technology, and it urged the FCC to adopt a regulatory paradigm that encourages this approach. 

AMSAT-NA also filed comments in the proceeding. The AMSAT remarks reflect several of the same concerns expressed by ARRL, including the suitability of authorizing certain satellites built by universities and non-profit organizations in the Amateur Satellite Service, and expressing opposition to satellites licensed as experimental under FCC Part 5 rules operating in the Amateur Satellite bands. Interested parties may file reply comments in the proceeding, IB Docket No. 18-86, by August 7, 2018. 



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