First, while the FCC clearly has US authority over spectrum, how is it that its charter includes satellite launches? Or conversely, if they SpaceBees never turn on did they violate the license? And on what basis does the FCC get to evaluate the risk of other things in orbit, isn't that NORAD's job? And what if this had been a startup in Bangalore or Mumbai, would they be getting crap from the FCC for launching the very same satellites?
Now I understand the leverage the FCC can use with US based launch services, sort "Follow our rules and do what we say or we will have the FAA pull your launch permit." but that leverage doesn't really exist for foreign launch services. Heck the Russians might launch stuff like this just to irritate the FCC and tweak our noses.
And it raises a whole different set of questions about cubesats. How closely are they inspected at Integration time? Is is possible to create a cubesat that looks and smells like it is doing one mission but is actually doing a different mission? What happens when someone launches an orbital spy satellite network? Not the one you would expect taking pictures of people's back yards, but a collection of satellites with large lenses that are looking up and over at the things coming up from the ground. Imagine an ion engine powered small sat that works its way up to GEO and snaps pictures of all the satellites it can find and beams those images down to earth.
Let's say their quad systems stays under the weight of the typical cubesat limit of 1.33kg. That means they could launch 100,000+ satellites on a single F9 load. And while that would be silly (They would all be in a very similar orbit) it suggests how easily someone could (in theory) just "throw up" a covert microwave based communication network on a very small number of launches.
These are definitely 21st century sorts of problems :-).
As far as satellites with covert missions or missions other than what is publicly stated, we should probably assume they already exist. The NRO is pretty sneaky and the USAF has never stated what the heck the X-37 is doing. There's a good chance that they have other satellites with publicly acknowledged missions that are doing something else behind the scenes. They are probably attempting to guard against that same behavior from others as well.
Doing optical imaging probably isn't feasible for a cubesat, it takes quite a bit of fuel to get next to another satellite and not hit it, so a cubesat can't zip up to dozens of satellites to get detailed images with a smartphone size sensor- it would run out of fuel too quickly. Instead, optical satellites will probably have their own orbit and accept that they will be far away from their targets. Large distances require a huge aperture if you want a good image, but it's not hard to imagine a satellite such as Hubble occasionally rotating to catch an image of Russian or Chinese tech. Plus, the NRO has sent up several very large payloads that we don't know what they do, so there's probably a large aperture imaging satellite snapping images we don't know about. What cubesats can do is extend long antennas that were folded up for launch. A small cubesat could be effective at RF surveillance and a constellation of cubesats and good signal processing could provide a surveillance system for other satellites that could spot various communication types and record the orbital information of the satellites doing the transmitting.
Planet Labs' Dove satellites aren't much bigger than a typical cube sat (they're like 3 cube sats stacked together), have reaction wheels, and the "wings" have enough lift to be able to control altitude https://arxiv.org/pdf/1509.03270.pdf (page 9)
> Is is possible to create a cubesat that looks and smells like it is doing one mission but is actually doing a different mission?
You mean like Zuma which SpaceX launched and then was declared as "lost" but might have secretly been designed to look like it was lost?
If you wanted to "lose" a satellite by launching it into a known orbit, you could design a satellite that is matte black, physically stealthy, with a very large supply of xenon propellant and ion thruster so that over a period of many months it could totally change its orbital plane into something new.
Plane change maneuvers are very expensive in terms of delta-V, but the US certainly has the money to launch things that have a thousand kg of extra propellant on board.
Or some combination of plane change and movement into a highly elliptical/molniya type orbit.
Thereby making it quite difficult for opposing nation-state level agencies to locate.
edit: the easy way to know if spacex screwed up or not is if they receive future "national security" launch missions. If no further such missions occur, and the feds continue shoveling money at United Launch Alliance, that would be telling.
The USAF figured out how to detect such satellites back in the 1980s. The Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) looks at the sky with three 40-inch telescopes per site. This automatic system has a big star catalog, and can detect when something blocks its view of a star. The telescopes are some distance apart, and so they can see time differences between something occulting a star and compute range. The multiple telescopes allow disambiguating problems such as clouds, aircraft, and birds.
If something looks interesting enough, one of the telescopes is switched to laser mode, and a laser flash is used to illuminate the target. Even black objects reflect some light.
GEODSS was the first fully computerized telescope system, and it generated far more usable data than film-based systems. One of the old GEODSS sites was used to look for near-earth asteroids for years, and found most of the known ones. Now, of course, everybody has multi-megapixel imagers on telescopes and enough computer power to analyze the results.
I was referring to this part.
And 99.965% absorption is still visible in a bright light.
"The Worlds Blackest Black vs The Worlds Brightest Flashlight (32,000 lumen)—Which Will Win?"
To summarize, the flashlight wins, and it's reasonable to expect the effect would be the same with a laser and sensitive detection equipment.
That isn't Vantablack as such though, is it? Afaik, Vantablack proper requires a specific application process , which I've mentally envisaged as being something akin to growing diamonds in a lab on a substrate, or applying flocking to materials.
I'd be quite curious to know what the reflectivity would be like on some clever coating consisting of vertically-laid carbon nano tubes, etc.
 - https://www.surreynanosystems.com/vantablack/applying-vantab...
Since failure is always possible, including from various forms of human error, and is often exacerbated by extreme conditions (such as launching to space) it is quite likely that we'll never know for sure.
It really /would/ be nice if there was a mandatory sunset period for de-classification (which required /active/ effort to keep reviewing and punting classified status forward).
The payload adapter was not the SpaceX built hardware SpaceX usually uses, but was built by Northrop Grumman
they were, as I said, "black body radiators" which are not theoretically ideal black bodies, but still manage to radiate black body radiation.
In terms of my life and future of my children, I am not afraid of AI, Mr Musk. I am afraid of you launching top secret government payloads, one after another.
20ish years ago, when I started my career, Google and Facebook didn't exist. Amazon sold only books and was considered a bold experiment. No AWS. People argued about whether linux would be ever be used in production. The iPhone didn't exist. Wifi was a newish spec, but most people getting online (which wasn't most people!) relied on modems, or isdn if you happened to live in certain places. There was no "internet of things" - heck "information superhighway" metaphors were finally starting to phase out, and the average American would still talk about The World Wide Web so awkwardly you could hear the capital letters. Self driving cars were total sci fi that could never happen because it's hard, plus who would you sue? (Plus cest la change, plus cest la meme chose)
(I might be off by a year or two, but the point remains)
I entered the profession about 20 years ago and have seen all of this change. At my age, I can expect to be in the industry for most of the NEXT 20 years. Before I even retire. Given that the rate of change accelerates - https://ddcvqwvagfyuw.cloudfront.net/content/uploads/2015/12... - we have no idea what to expect by then, but can expect it to be very different, all while we are still struggling with how to deal with the impact on society that faster travel and communication introduced from before I was even born.
Do I think AI will exist and turn on humanity in that time? Can't say. AI predictions have been notoriously bad. (Usually overconfident, but also in the other direction. 20 years ago it was obvious computers would be able to beat any grandmaster in chess sometime in our lives, but go was considered to be something dramatically past that.
So I don't know if it will happen or even be able to happen. But I'm not convinced by anyone pointing out failures in current tech. That's like saying human flight can't happen because a lot of people failed at it, or that cars won't replace horses because they break down too much. Tech changes and it is change at a growing rate.
To cite a metaphor: if you have a pond. A lily pad gets there. Next day you see there are 2. 4 the next day. Will they overgrow the pond? If you wait until the pond is half covered to worry about it (e.g. 20 days), you have only 1 day to handle it before 'maybe' is proven 'yes', not 20.
As humans have no understanding of intelligence and certainly not human intelligence, their ability to create an artificial one is effectively non-existent. Compared to the existing natural biological systems that we find around us, we cannot even duplicate their simplest processes with any aplomb. Our attempts are extremely inefficient in all areas, energy, speed, production purity, etc.
If one looks around, one will see much change occurring. Yet, in so many ways, little changes. People remain people, the problems that plague people remain the same the same. If anything, our technology is only speeding up the rate at which these problems are occurring. Much of this is because we don't actually sit down and ask if we should be doing something at all.
Just because we have varying success at developing various kinds of technology, doesn't mean we actually have the wisdom or understanding to use that technology properly or that we will achieve duplication of intelligence in a non-biological system.
In regards to your pond analogy, instead of using exponential growth, I think we could say that it is logarithmic growth.
They have started to.
It's just an expansion of their mandate happens all the time. Instead of creating a whole new department just to regulate launches adding it to the department that will be issuing a license anyways (anything worth putting up is going to be transmitting down so pretty much any launch will have the FCC looking at it already).
As for the rest it's really hard to do much of anything covertly in space, if it's above the size of a softball the DoD will pick it up on it's space monitoring sensors. Same thing with changing orbits unannounced they'll know within at most an orbit when the object suddenly is not where they expect it to be.
In the end the answer is could you? Yes, theoretically. But you'd have to find a launch company willing to host you and prey you have somewhere good to hide/a host strong enough to protect you because you're going to piss off every single country with a space program.
The instances you're thinking of are either "lost" as in "presumed dead" (like IMAGE) or non-Earth orbit probes (like ISEE-3). IMAGE was never untracked, and ISEE-3 was never supposed to be tracked (but its location was still known.)
Remember when the NRO gave NASA two space telescopes no one knew they even had, bother where comparable in scope/complexity to Hubble.
The only reference I can find for this says the NRO satellites won't be launch till 2020. They're not up in orbit.
If they are handing over that kind of technology I wouldn’t rule out them having some amazing tracking stuff we know nothing about and won’t for a decade or two if ever.
At least we now know that Pai's talk of scaling FCC back to let the legislators decide was untrue!
probably yes, but as 99.9% of cubesats have no thrusters or maneuvering capability (yet), and their initial TLEs are known. It's pretty easy for a nation-state space agency or air force (USAF, UK, most large EU countries, etc) to aim a two-axis motorized tracking VHF/UHF antenna at them with a spectrum analyzer to figure out at least what frequencies it's communicating on. Even if everything is encrypted.
It's not as if any cubesat currently has the capability to change its orbital elements or do anything other than act as some form of radio Rx/Tx, or maybe operate a very small telescopic camera system.
Astroscale is one example: http://astroscale.com/
It would take a while, it would be costly to start up, and boy does this sound like a weapon from 50% of space sifi stuff I've ever read or seen...
However I suspect it's still the cheapest solution to the issue.
It's the way you use something that makes it a weapon.
So it's not the way you use it that makes a weapon, a weapon remains a weapon throughout it's non-violent uses; the oldest trick in war is to disguise weapons as tools before using them in an attack. See nuclear proliferation under the guise of atomic energy, the militarization of space, Hitler's powerful 'defensive' army.
It may sound like a pedantic distinction, but in practice, the fact that something IS a weapon, regardless of how it's being used, will drastically alter decisions. Imagine an unknown person coming at your family with a knife or ax in hand. Under the "not a weapon until used as such" doctrine, the burden is on you to prove the agresive intentions and you have no logical reason to be concerned until then.
Even then in LEO you get enough drag to limit risks and the worst case ends up as a trade-off of safety vs continuous fuel usage. Remember, space is vast but satellites and space junk are both really fast and stay up for a long time. Prevent junk from staying in your orbit and the risks dramatically decrease even more so if you add maneuverability. Even better LEO prevents your satellite from adding to the mess long term.
My knowledge is more certain about the international situation - the US has jurisdiction over its own objects because the Outer Space Treaty gives each party to it the right (and responsibility) to regulate the objects its citizens launch into space. I'm actually curious why the US decided that it was their job to regulate satellites launched by India but owned and operated by US citizens and corporations, but India seems to agree (because they didn't try to do the licensing for these satellites).
As long as the satellite is behaving itself, it can fly over any country and will not be subject to any laws from that country. The Outer Space Treaty was set up in part to clarify issues like this (also to keep nukes out of space). The US has no authority to restrict operations of an overhead satellite- which is good, because then they could prevent satellites orbiting in some of the most valuable inclinations. The only instances that I know of where a country did anything about an overhead satellite was China, when they blinded a satellite with a laser from the ground and when they tested an anti-satellite missile on one of their own satellites.
Then it's not a categorical "not". And what happens when the satellite is not "behaving itself", as you put it?
Then again, where does the border lie? Limit of space? 10 miles? 50 miles?
We have an interesting gray zone here, folks. Where there's a gray zone, there's a lot of money to be made.
62 miles (100 km) altitude is where the border lies.
This is not a gray area at all and there is no money to be made by violating the OST. If you start a company in a country that has signed the OST you will be held to the rules. Any country that isn't a signatory to the OST doesn't have a robust space program and will likely still require you to follow the OST because there will be strong international pressure on them. Even if a country did allow you to violate the OST you wouldn't have a viable business because all the economically developed countries of the world have signed the OST and won't do business with someone that is interfering with their access to space.
China wasn't really punished when it blew up a satellite, and I doubt that was allowed by the treaty.
The better question, though, is are there any MOTIVATION to break the treaty?
Well there certainly already was motivation for china, I there is certainly motivation for other countries to engage in weapons testing. Especially if they could do their weaponization without being noticed. I doubt that every rocket in the world is checked, top to bottom for weapons.
This is incorrect on several levels (which, of course, did not prevent you from downvoting my post):
* The Outer Space Treaty does not have a definition of the boundary. Here it is, go ahead, look it up: http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/oute.... It's hardly a "law" (technically, a treaty is not a law either), more of a set of guidelines and some more concrete restrictions to solve some Cold War issues.
* You are referring to the Kármán line (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kármán_line) which is commonly referred to as a boundary between the atmosphere and the outer space.
* On the other hand, the United States considers an "astronaut" anyone who has flown over 50 miles (80 km) above the surface.
You already see the discrepancy, don't you?
Most importantly though, both "boundaries" are merely working benchmarks, without any legal authority.
The actual boundaries are determined by national laws. I have no doubt that many, if not most national laws have no such boundaries defined at all. (Heck, if the US doesn't have a solid definition, then who does?)
> It's still a categorical "not" as far as international law goes
What is that "international law"? Not the Outer Space Treaty, I presume? If you seriously believe that China openly violated a specific law, I'd be curious to know what law it was.
Generally speaking, "law" is an enforceable set of rules. The "international law" is, sans special cases like war crimes, a misnomer.
Even if we look at something more mundane and reachable like maritime borders, which are more or less firmly defined, they've been disputed a bajillion times (for example, Spratly Islands) or simply ignored or "freely interpreted" (Russia's Arctic exploration).
I maintain, we have a gray zone here.
But those heights are well below the height you need for a stable orbit.
Anything orbiting multiple times is in space, and nobody will argue.
So in the context of satellites, you're wrong.
The context is about the vertical extent of the national borders, not the edge of space.
Who says the vertical border ends with the edge of space? Once again, the vertical extent is not defined. Say, tomorrow they come up with a Skylon-like contraption that will be used in civil aviation. That would give a reason to the national governments to redefine the notion of "airspace".
> Anything orbiting multiple times is in space, and nobody will argue.
And how do you know that? Once again, with the example of China, nobody could come up with counterarguments precisely because it's undefined.
Because the Kármán line is not the border.
only difference is that satellites can remain aflot years after their owners bankrupted...
- Kessler Syndrome, a la "Is the plotline of Gravity inevitable with increasing commercialization of space?"
- Weaponization of space. If you could get 4 unauthorized satellites up on a launch that was forbidden because "they're a danger to other satellites", could you do the same with satellites that are intentionally a danger to other satellites? Could a private company knock out the U.S's spy satellites at just the moment they are most needed? Could it set up its own spy network?
- How about ABM defense? Could a private company create a network of smart space junk with the purpose of stopping a potential nuclear war before it starts? (Incidentally, such an organization could end up in the position of both saving humanity and opposing U.S. national interests, given that the U.S. has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on Earth, which should make Americans wonder if U.S. national interests are aligned with humanity. Crimson Tide was a great movie.)
- More generally: nation states have traditionally had a monopoly around certain technologies. Spaceflight, weaponry, cryptography, communication networks. That monopoly is fraying, or in some cases, has already frayed beyond repair. What does that mean for the power balance on earth, and for social organization on the planet? There are some private organizations that are arguably more powerful than full nation-states nowadays.
21st century sorts of problems indeed. At least the 21st century looks like it'll be exciting, if somewhat scary.
Kessler Syndrome wouldn't stop us directly. If we absolutely had to, we could use air breathing electromagnetic thrusters to keep extremely low orbit satellites aloft.
However, if global warming requires us to do geoengineering, such a handicap might well result in the extinction of human civilization.
There are some private organizations that are arguably more powerful than full nation-states nowadays.
There were private companies that basically owned some 3rd world countries in the 20th century. This situation probably still exists to some extent.
Just one example that never seizes to amaze me:
By 1803, at the height of its rule in India, the British East India company had a private army of about 260,000—twice the size of the British Army.
I think the idea was to allow private investors to colonize new territories and later seize control from them.
It had an army, larger than the one from its home country. AFAIK, it was officially not independent, but what difference does the official title make?
Source: Working for a nation-state funded science lab.
There have been PocketQube launches which are smaller than these satellites which in theory got licenses.
Also, there are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris smaller than these satellites. It's not clear that four more satellites are really going to raise the risk bar that much.
> Also, there are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris smaller than these satellites. It's not clear that four more satellites are really going to raise the risk bar that much.
Yeah but intentionally putting up more is still not a good idea.
 Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on Earth.
The highest-yield US warhead was the 25Mt Mk 41, retired in 1976. All warheads in the inventory now are in the sub-Mt range, mostly around 150 to 300 Kt
Regardless, if you're Russian you should also carefully consider whether your national interest aligns with the continued existence of humanity, at least as far as nuclear weapons go.
Putin said, just yesterday, that he sees no reason for the world to continue to exist without Russia. He was strongly impling that Russia would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if threatened.
Oh yes, it's a whole big thing! See: https://www.fcc.gov/international
That shouldn't be the end of the discussion, though. Why didn't the FCC grant Swarm a license in the first place? Basically, the FCC claims the right to take action to minimize the danger of orbital debris created by US-operated satellites.  According to the FCC, this jurisdiction is granted by the Communications Act of 1934.  But that requires a very broad interpretation of the law. If promoting "the larger and more effective use of radio in the public interest" lets the FCC make regulations about orbital debris, then surely it also applies to just about anything that has a radio.
I don't like what Swarm did here -- I think they are legitimately endangering other satellites -- but I don't like the precedent the FCC is setting either. This seems like a classic case of bureaucratic overreach to me.
 Swarm's license application: https://apps.fcc.gov/oetcf/els/reports/442_Print.cfm?mode=cu...
 FCC experimental license rules, section 5.64:
 "Mitigation of Orbital Debris", section (III)(A): https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-04-130A1.p...
The real answer here, which the FCC just shoved right to the forefront, is that there should be a single international independent body to sign off on a debris analysis on all items placed in space. But then again, no country wants that because they either want the control for themselves or thrive on the gray area.
For the commercial launch industry, they don't want that either because most of them leave their spent rocket bodies up there (which are basically big rusting tanks with unspent fuel vapors). For the big old space, they don't want it either because they would be forced to admit that they have a fiscal responsibility to operate their satellites until they die and that their active-deorbit plans are bullshit.
What shocks me is that neither Spaceflight nor ISRO checked on the license. This is why you have mass dummies (big hunks of metal that approximate the satellite that can be launched in their place).
On top of that, shame on the CEO of Swarm. You could make the argument that she set trust in the industry back by years. She should pack it up. You don't get to ask for forgiveness instead of permission when you're playing in space. It belongs it everyone.
(Which question, btw, shows the need for an international regulatory agency like you're describing.)
It's been a long-standing ethical concern that the breakaway startups succeed by asking for forgiveness (e.g. ride sharing and room letting). Who is to decide that space is any different? And when the technicality is based on radio-waves, why RF spectrums more sacred than housing laws?
Of cause there is little incentive to to create such agencies as long as the FCC is taking care of it well.
It's the FAA regulations that cover passenger issues.
The USAF/NORAD operates the US feds' space tracking functionality but is not set up to regulate things, they provide Secret and TS level data to agencies like the NRO and other parts of the USAF (for missions like the X-37), but I don't think the USAF spacetrack agency has any regulatory authority. Probably it should have such, if this sort of thing continues.
Do you think the FCC should be able to make safety regulations for, say, airplanes or sailboats?
The skeptic in me says it is so that the government can grant monopolies to people like Lyndon Johnson who own radio stations so that they can become very wealthy. Then when they become President (or hold other positions of power), they scratch the backs that scratched theirs.
Still seems weird the FCC and not NASA or the Air Force makes this call. Isn't the FCC busy diving into rooms full of gold coins from Verizon?
The military has jurisdiction over more than you might think, they just try to stay out of the way unless it impedes the national defense.
Military has access to higher resolution timestamps to improve accuracy.
Edit: looks like you already can: http://gnss-sdr.org/
I can't conceive how they could lock it down to low speed objects, as it is a one way communication link, but I'd be interested to know if it is possible.
Edit: looks like this is a limit built into GPS receiver devices, not the protocol. If you build your own receiver, then you can get around those restrictions. Not sure if there are licencing issues to worry about, but I can't imagine an adversary to care about that kind of thing, or a company that is launching 'rogue' sats.
I took a look earlier today. The epoch for the TLE of this object was from yesterday, which implies that it's being measured in order for the TLE to have been updated.
And looking again now, I see it was updated again today.
I am sorry, but not sure how the FCC has any jurisdiction here. However, I can see the issue with them being small and hard to and track, but still not sure how FCC is even the right entity to handle this.
However, the US is also is weird for instance taxes are based of citizenship not were you live geographically. For instance if you have lived in Japan for 10 years you still would have to pay taxed back to the US.
Because of its regulatory authority over commercial sstellites; the operator of these satellites applied to the FCC for approval and was denied because they did not meet safety (detectability by certain instruments) requirements.
> but still not sure how FCC is even the right entity to handle this.
It's the “right entity” because of the responsibility assigned to it by Congress. Whether Congresd should have given that responsibility to some other agency is, perhaps, a valid question, but fairly distant from the immediate case.
I was not aware the US Congress has jurisdiction over the entire planet.
Is what Swarm did bad? Yes, if we were to take FCC at face value (why should we?). Should the FCC be allowed to reprimand this american company? Probably, assuming FCC is telling the truth. Should the FCC act like the universal arbiter of space? No, it should not, and the sociopolitical attitude displayed here is much worse and harmful than the space pollution from Swarm.
And I disagree with the "sociopolitical attitude being bad". I fully believe that this "endanger other's things and don't care about it" attitude given by Swarm is the more dangerous one.
Perhaps also important is that Swarm is an American company.
The FCC isn't being orbital traffic cops, it is doing its job. While the FCC has done a bunch of distasteful stuff regarding net neutrality recently, the folks taking actin agains Swarm are clearly in the right.
This is why rocket lab has a FAA launch license, despite operating out of new zealand.
Also, Senator Ted Cruz has been calling for revisiting this requirement in the outer space treaty. I’m not sure if anyone knows why yet - presumably he is getting some preasure from somewhere to modify it. I know it had some people scratching their heads as to why for a while. It’s not like the treaty is prescriptive. Maybe he wants corps or individuals to be able to have sovereignty in outer space or something.
If all companies were outside of the US then it would come down to whether a treaty or similar agreement exists (of which I am not aware).
If you're interested you can take a look at the "five United Nations treaties on outer space" which are the basis of international space law: http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties.html
Specifically, under the terms of the Space Liability Convention, a state which launches an object into space is liable for damages caused by that object. A practical example was the crash of Kosmos 954 over northern Canada: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosmos_954
Only on US earned income. There are no taxes on any FEI if you stay off of US soil for 330 days in any consecutive 12 month period. 
For Japan at least, this is incorrect. If you are an American living in Japan, both countries will tax your unearned income, regardless of the source.
Social Security and other government pensions being the main exceptions.
The rest of what you said is correct though: the FCC has jurisdiction because the company being discussed is an American one.
(for reference, I incorrectly stated "Hell, even their domain name is a .us")
If they go to India or New Zealand, and cause havoc for the FCC by doing something stupid, the US can crush them just the same by working with those governments. Essentially all nations capable of putting things into space have generally shown a desire to be good neighbors with everyone else when it comes to space. Just going to a different country wouldn't spare a company from the consequences of their actions.
China intentionally blew up one of their old satellites in 2007, in an event that increased the amount of space debris by as much as 75%.
NATO responded a month later by adopting guidelines for such thing never to happen again.
More info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Chinese_anti-satellite_mi...
American companies break American laws all the time in their foreign branches. It's impossible not to, since countries have conflicting laws.
Imagine if all employees of international conglomerates were required to pay American minimum wage? Do you understand how ridiculous and controlling that is?
They don't necessarily need to be a huge team with a bunch of experienced industry insiders to pull this off. They could just as easily be a couple of recent grads with some of Grandma's inheritance from selling her house in Palo Alto.
Edit: the article describes them as an engineer that developed a satellite concept for Google and the other sold his previous company to Apple. Neither of them have experience in this regulatory environment. Neither Google nor Apple are space companies. These founders are going in on the tech aspect of distributed computing in space, I doubt either has launched a satellite before.
Uber did that, in a different industry, and has had success. I'm appalled by the behavior, but perhaps others are following their model.
I'm not sure who should be responsible, but some coordination at the international level seems necessary to make sure this does not happen.
Kessler syndrome is something I always see discussed, but I don't really have any idea how large/proximal the issue is. Is this a 10-years risk? 100? 1000? Purely hypothetical?
Overall the situation is best modelled with a pretty messy set of differential equations combining the differing rates of debris creation and decay by altitude alongside the rate of impact events that cause gradual reduction in the mean particle size and orbit.
As for the risk, it’s sort of a chaotic breakdown threshold, hard to model. And unfortunately also hard to predictively put risk estimates on.
I sometimes forget there are problems out there that for all our analytic tools are 'too hard' to give an good (read: short) answer.
I'll have to go properly digging for some papers, though it's been a few years since I had to read differential equations...
There is nothing RF regulatory mentioned in the FCC's letter.
Does this mean the FCC has stated a position that it has a problem with all cubesats of similar sized launched by all other nations?
It is kind of weird that the FCC is in charge of orbital debris mitigation and avoidance. If the US feds intend to regulate satellite dimensions and orbits it needs to be done by some sort of aerospace experts.
for example the GOCE satellite lasted longer than expected because its end-of-life period happened to coincide with a lower than usual amount of solar wind activity.
Hypothetically, could the DoD have given them the go-ahead without informing the FCC?
Also, it seems like either (A) the satellites are big enough to track using the space surveillance network, negating the FCC's complaint, or (B) the satellites are too small to see reliably, meaning that it would be hard to pin any collision on these satellites. Perhaps there is a gray area where we can observe it, but not reliably.
I wonder how the FCC makes these decisions. The article mentioned that Swarm included passive radar reflectors, but that those will only help boost the radar cross-section for a small band of frequencies that are only used by a small fraction of the SSN. Ideally, our detection capability will improve over time and this will cease to be an issue. It would be a shame if no US company could ever launch a sub-1U satellite.
The satellites on this rocket were launched into a ~500km polar orbit, which means that they're moving at ~7.6 km/s. If they were to run into something at the same altitude in an equatorial orbit, they'd have a relative velocity of >10 km/s. That 10g bolt has as much energy as a sedan going at highway speeds.
Chunks of debris from previous satellites are absolutely an issue - the ISS cupola was visibly damaged when it was hit by a literal fleck of paint.
Even with a 6U size cubesat you are very limited in terms of data rate throughput (in Mbps) you can achieve in bands above VHF/UHF. Simply due to the size limits of antenna you can fold down and the Shannon-Hartley limit.
The US government granted them incorporation (or some similar status) and all the privileges that came with that. I wish the government would raise the cost of non-compliance by exercising it's right to revoke those privileges.
Look at Uber and all the laws it broke. Sure Travis might be gone but the company stays and some people made a lot of money by breaking laws and exploiting others. For them it paid off and they will do it again.
He will be allowed to profit handsomely from all of his illegal activities.
In the case of Uber, their initial ignoring of the laws protecting Taxis I think was a good thing. Though this doesn't hold true for the things they were later accused of.
If they really thought they were right, they would be lobbying to remove those medallion requirements for everyone, themselves and the taxi companies. They didn't.
If they tried to fight head on legally they likely would have lost (since that's probably where the taxi companies are strongest and incentivized to spend all of their money to win at any cost).
A state government did that, most likely.
Edit: And now that I think about it... you'd imagine the minimum tracking size of the US radars would be fairly classified. And likely something not bandied about the FCC in detail.
 See this comment https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16556716
No. They would have to move operations abroad and convince a foreign country they’re worth the risk. (American operations of foreign companies are still subject to U.S. law.)
"Paperwork filed with the FCC by Swarm Technologies shows that it was planning to use Spaceflight, a Seattle-based launch services company, to get its satellites on board the PSLV. Spaceflight’s website shows that it did in fact supply 19 of the 31 satellites for January’s PSLV launch, including some with the SpaceBees unique 0.25U dimensions.
"Last year, Spaceflight senior mission manager Adam Hadaller told Spectrum that it checked all its customers’ safety regulations and communication licenses before launch. However, in response to questions this week, Spaceflight would only say: “Spaceflight has never knowingly launched a customer who has been denied an FCC license. It is the responsibility of our customers to secure all FCC licenses.”
"Neither Spaceflight nor ISRO could immediately confirm whether they routinely check launch customers’ FCC licenses. If they do not, there would seem to be little to stop satellite makers from deploying any device they choose into orbit."
I also assume pretty much everybody else who is so upset on this thread is also unaware of how satellites and debris are tracked nationally/internationally, so I'm confused why opinions are so black-and-white.
That has nothing to do with it, since the FCC has issued plenty of licenses to companies that follow the rules.
Reading the letter it sounds like they intend to ban cubesat-sized things owned/operated by US companies in general, because they're not capable of accurately determining their TLEs.
edit: I was wrong, these are 1/4 the size of a 1U cubesat. So very, very tiny.
1/4U: not legal.
Having researched the data throughput/electrical load capacity of 2U through 6U sized cubesats somewhat, I am surprised that the Swarm company thinks a 1/4U cubesat will be useful for anything at all, other than very, very low datarate relay.
I don't think it's unreasonable to require that cubesats be at least 1U in size.
the regulation should specify radar reflection specs and let people solve the problem.
Yeah, I'm surprised it wasn't. I've heard of dispensers on the ISS being zip tied shut and not cut until confirmation of license.
You are wrong. American companies are subject to American law, domestically and overseas. Moreover, there are international rules governing satellite orbits and communications. These rely on countries overseeing their satellites. That entire regulatory regime was circumvented by Swarm taking advantage of the FCC’s light-tough regulatory approach (with respect to satellites) and the Indian government’a similar trust in Swarm having gotten its paperwork in order before shipping its bird for deployment.
Absolutely not true. American companies don't pay foreign employees American minimum wage, for example.
the FCC doesn't give launch approval, despite the fact that it's rules include space safety rules. OTOH, they do give permission to operate space-based commercial radio stations which are used in services operating in the US market.
India probably should apply reasonable space safety rules to avoid populating LEO with dangerous space junk, but FCC approval is orthogonal to that, and India breaking the rules isn't an issue.
> The fact that they are an American company doesn't matter. They did not violate any FCC regulations.
If they use the radios on those satellites for a service in the US, it will matter a lot. If they don't, it might not
If they weren't incorporated in the United States and planning to operate in the US, then they might not need to satisfy the FCC. But....
Further, their attitude is basically that of a spoiled child when told they can't do something.