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FCC Fact Sheet: Streamlining Licensing Procedures for Small Satellites

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 14, 2019


Streamlining Licensing Procedures for Small Satellites
Report and Order, IB Docket No. 18-86

[Full Draft Order]


The Commission’s part 25 satellite licensing rules, primarily used by commercial systems, group satellites into two general categories—geostationary-satellite orbit systems and non-geostationary-satellite orbit (NGSO) systems—for purposes of application processing.The Commission’s satellite licensing rules, in particular those applicable to commercial operations, were generally not developed with small satellite systems in mind, and uniformly impose fees and regulatory requirements appropriate to expensive, long-lived missions.

However, the Commission has recognized that smaller, less expensive satellites, known colloquially as “small satellites” or “small sats,” have gained popularity among satellite operators, including for commercial operations. Therefore, in 2018, the Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposed to develop a new authorization process tailored specifically to small satellite operations, keeping in mind efficient use of spectrum and mitigation of orbital debris.

What the Report and Order Would Do:

  • Create an alternative, optional application process within part 25 of the Commission’s rules for small satellites. This streamlined process would be an addition to, and not replace, the existing processes for satellite authorization under parts 5 (experimental), 25, and 97 (amateur) of the Commission’s rules
  • This new streamlined application process could be used by applicants for satellites and satellite systems meeting certain qualifying characteristics, such as:
    • 10 or fewer satellites under a single authorization.
    • Total in-orbit lifetime of satellite(s) of six years or less.
    • Maximum individual satellite wet mass of 180 kg.
    • Propulsion capabilities or deployment below 600 km altitude.
    • Ability to share use of authorized frequency band with current operations and without materially constraining future satellite entrants seeking to use the band.
    • Relatively low risk from an orbital debris perspective, as assessed through additional clearly ascertainable characteristics.
  • Applicants qualifying for this process would have a streamlined application, would be exempted from the Commission’s processing round procedures, and could take advantage of a one-year grace period from posting of a surety bond.
  • Adopt a new application fee category for small satellite applicants seeking a U.S. license or access to the U.S. market, with an application fee of $30,000, and adopt a new small satellite regulatory fee category.

* This document is being released as part of a “permit-but-disclose” proceeding. Any presentations or views on the subject expressed to the Commission or its staff, including by email, must be filed in IB Docket No. 18-86, which may be accessed via the Electronic Comment Filing System ( ( Before filing, participants should familiarize themselves with the Commission’s ex parte rules, including the general prohibition on presentations (written and oral) on matters listed on the Sunshine Agenda, which is typically released a week prior to the Commission’s meeting. See 47 CFR § 1.1200 et seq.

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