Proposed FCC Regulations Could Put CubeSats Out of Reach for Students

CubeSats (Credit: NASA)

Well, this doesn’t sound good.

In a move that threatens U.S. education in science, technology, engineering and math, and could have repercussions throughout the country’s aerospace industry, the FCC is proposing regulations that may license some educational satellite programs as commercial enterprises. That could force schools to pay a US$135,350 annual fee – plus a $30,000 application fee for the first year – to get the federal license required for a U.S. organization to operate satellite communications.

It would be a dramatic increase in costs. The most common type of small satellite used in education is the U.S.-developed CubeSat. Each is about 10 inches on a side and weighs 2 or 3 pounds. A working CubeSat that can take pictures of the Earth can be developed for only $5,000 in parts. They’re assembled by volunteer students and launched by NASA at no charge to the school or college. Currently, most missions pay under $100 to the FCC for an experimental license, as well as several hundred dollars to the International Telecommunications Union, which coordinates satellite positions and frequencies.

U.S. CubeSat programs have been a model for space education programs around the world. In our work in North Dakota, we’ve seen the power of satellites to excite and engage students. And we’re not alone. Hundreds of CubeSats have given students hands-on experience, even reaching elementary schools, to get younger students interested in, and connected to, engineering and space science. In my view, the FCC should protect all this by making clear what fees apply to school and university missions, and ensuring the cost is much lower than $135,350.

  • Michael Halpern

    1,000 makes sense (expensive but manageable) 135,350 seems arbitrarily high

  • Robert G. Oler

    I guess the FCC is getting tired of bleep sats on the ham bands

  • windbourne

    Hopefully trump’s ppl will not do this. It really does not make sense.

  • Michael Halpern

    Well the guy he put in charge of FCC is owned by the telcos…

  • duheagle

    Even assuming that to be true, I fail to see any relevance. Why would telcos care about cubesats? So far as I know, the only cubesats that use other than amateur radio frequency bands are those built by actual commercial entities.

    This smacks heavily of reflexive overreaching by self-aggrandizing Deep State types as with that farcical NOAA order anent SpaceX’s rocketcams. The Trump administration should promptly fire whoever was responsible for both these idiotic power-grabs and cancel their federal pensions to discourage other would-be little commissars from running amok in future.

  • duheagle

    Perhaps that’s true. If so, I think less draconian steps can be taken to fix any potential or actual such problem. It seems that someone over at FCC hasn’t yet noticed that Obama and his wrecking crew are no longer in charge of the country.

  • Michael Halpern

    The telcos are threatened by leo internet this could easily be an indirect attack

  • Robert G. Oler

    Trump and his wrecking crew do not care

  • duheagle

    Not a very effective one then. Starlink and OneWeb birds are going to cost several million each to build and deploy. An extra 135 grand apiece isn’t going to open a business case that otherwise closes. If one was to look for incumbent players who might benefit from this I would say the legacy aerospace companies in the legacy satellite business look like better prospects than the telcos.

  • duheagle

    That remains to be seen. NOAA didn’t do too well out of that rocketcam idiocy.

    Based on recent performance of the U.S. economy, labeling the Trump administration a “wrecking crew” seems risibly inappropriate.

    What Trump does need to get to work wrecking is the Deep State and its connection at the hip to the Democratic Party. I fear his fundamentally non-ideological bent is likely to make him blind to much of both the problem and his potential opportunities to roll back unreasonable exercises of state power. I suspect Trump sees “The Swamp” as just a lot of individually self-aggrandizing/corrupt government functionaries and officeholders. I think he misses the ideological and institutional aspects which are far more consequential.

  • Michael Halpern

    wrecking FDA regulations that prevent less tested drugs from being administered, and banning coal plants from closing down for two years are just as corrupt and damaging as anything else, as is giving the FCC to someone owned by Verizon, some regulations are onerous, but most exist for a reason.

  • Robert G. Oler

    the economy is in destruction mode, we now have record deficits…for no real benefit

    the deep state is a myth for the weak

  • duheagle

    The record for federal budget deficits was set by Obama who ran four consecutive deficits that were over $1 trillion each. The fiscal 2017 deficit – which covers the last four months of the Obama administration and the first eight months of the Trump administration – was a bit over $600 billion. The projected deficit for fiscal year 2018 is $440 billion. The rapidly recovering U.S. economy is now generating record amounts of federal tax revenue. The deficit trend is favorable.

    The Deep State is no myth. We have seen it at work all during the Obama administration, but especially since Trump was elected. One can only argue, really, about how “deep” it really is anymore as more and more of it seems to be rising into plain view as it, with increasing desperation, attempts to defend its arrogance and privilege. Trump needs to do to the “permanent” federal bureaucracy what Rome did to Carthage. After that he needs to get rough.

  • duheagle

    FDA drug test regulations are antiques from the era of “casino chemistry.” The effectiveness and safety of “small molecule” medications could – most of the time – be characterized fairly quickly using modest pools of test subjects. Even so, the rules didn’t always work – e.g., thalidomide.

    Pharmaceuticals average being a lot more chemically complex these days. Many are monoclonal antibodies and other complex biochemicals that have much more variable interactions with individual biochemistries than the drugs of yore. Nonetheless, the trend line has been for drugs to be getting safer, but the negative side effects – when they occur – tend to be worse even if much less common. The FDA has required larger and larger clinical trials in efforts to achieve increasingly unattainable levels of “safety” even when it means the costs of such trials also balloon hugely as does the time needed to conduct them.

    Then there are all the people who might have benefited – often in literal life-or-death ways – from drugs that take forever plus tax to get to market. The FDA only has to answer for deaths and other bad outcomes attributable to approved substances. It doesn’t get gigged for all the people who die waiting for approvals of medications that could have saved their lives.

    As for that alleged two-year moratorium on coal-fired generating plant closures, that didn’t happen. The coal industry wanted it, but Trump declined to do it.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Trumps budgets will go to over 2 trillion deficits

  • Michael Halpern

    Trump is reportedly proposing to force utility companies to buy more power from coal through executive orders