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20 February 20242 minute read

FCC adopts Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish framework for licensing ISAM activities

On February 15, 2024, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing a framework for licensing space stations conducting in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (ISAM) operations. Through the framework, the FCC seeks to facilitate the development of novel space activities that support sustained economic activity in space and advance opportunities for innovation in the new space age. The FCC’s efforts to regulate ISAM activities follow the White House’s release of the ISAM National Strategy in April 2022 and the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry from August 2022.

If implemented, the ISAM licensing framework would be established through new rule section 25.126, entitled, “Applications for ISAM Space Stations.” Under the proposed rules, applicants would essentially seek a license either through the existing Part 25 conventional license procedures or through the streamlined processes for small satellites and small spacecraft. The ISAM framework would also exempt ISAM space stations from the FCC’s processing round rules for non-geostationary orbit space stations and, consistent with the treatment of small satellites and small spacecraft, establish a one-year grace period for posting surety bonds.

Further, the NPRM proposes a requirement for ISAM operators to comply with existing orbital debris mitigation rules and allows the FCC to evaluate orbital debris mitigation plans for ISAM space stations on a case-by-case basis. The FCC does not identify any specific radiofrequency spectrum for use for ISAM operations and instead proposes to review requests for frequency use on a case-by-case basis.

Additionally, the FCC proposes to require ISAM applicants seeking to service non-US spacecraft to provide detailed information about those client vehicles, including associated ITU filings, space object registration information, applicable foreign regulatory requirements, and foreign license status.

Comments on the FCC’s proposal will be due 45 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register.

Parties interested in submitting comments regarding this or other space-related regulatory actions should contact a member of the Telecommunications or Space Exploration and Innovation team at DLA Piper.