The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has initiated an investigation into a California startup over its launch of four small satellites without proper authorisation. This is the first ever unauthorised launch of commercial satellites, if it is confirmed.
It is now possible for companies to develop small CubeSats cheaply and pay less than $100,000 for space on a rocket.
According to commentators, Menlo Park-based Swarm Technologies, may have taken advantage of the current situation to launch its first four satellites in January aboard an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.
The satellites, named SpaceBEE 1-4, were successfully deployed by the rocket, which had an Indian mapping satellite as its main payload. It however, also carried smaller satellites for Planetary Resources, Canadian telecom company Telesat, and more.
Earlier this month, the FCC, in a letter to Swarm Technologies revoked its authorisation for a follow-up launch. According to the letter, the action was in response to Swarm Technologies’ ”apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites.” The matter is under investigation by the FCC, and Swarm may lose its FCC license and be unable to test its communication technology.
Swarm Technologies was founded by former NASA and Google researcher Sara Spangelo with the aim of supporting the so-called internet of things (IoT).
According to its FCC filing this month, Swarm Technologies’ tiny communications satellites measured about 4 inches long, 4 inches wide and 4 inches tall.
The agency had earlier denied Swarm’s application because the satellites were too small to be tracked by the US Space Surveillance Network, which is supposed to catalogue all man-made objects that orbit the earth. Their size would make it hard to ensure the satellites would not hit other spacecraft in orbit, the FCC said.
Companies like SpaceX and OneWeb have proposed constellations of hundreds or thousands of small satellites, and according to analysts, thousands of satellites may be launched in the next few years.