When international regulators passed deployment milestones in late 2019, halting a spate of proposed satellite constellations, no one could have foreseen the devastation the pandemic would wreak on the industry.
COVID-19 has blocked satellite manufacturing supply chains, disrupted the workforce, rocked financial markets, and caused further stress and delays to satellite projects.
Space companies face severe macroeconomic headwinds and looming launch capacity strains, even as the pandemic weakens its influence on the industry two-and-a-half years later.
The war in Ukraine also tightened industry manufacturing and entry restrictions. The Russian invasion made it difficult to obtain inert gases used in electric satellites and semiconductor manufacturers’ thrusters, triggered international sanctions, and Western powers dropped Soyuz rockets from consideration. Will regulators show mercy to Constellation’s hopes as it battles unprecedented manufacturing and launch restrictions beyond its control?
The ITU’s task has become increasingly difficult as recent technological advances have led to a wave of frequency applications for NGSO constellations.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a subsidiary of the United Nations, regulates spectrum rights for satellites in non-geostationary orbits (NGSO) around the world.
To distinguish between applicants who purely build and launch satellites and applicants interested in hoarding spectrum, the ITU passed a rule in November 2019 asking whether NGSO operators will achieve deployment milestones. , forced to lose spectrum rights.
According to ITU Resolution 35, these deployment milestones will begin seven years after his spectrum application is submitted to the ITU, during which the applicant must deploy and operate his first satellite. After these seven years, NGSO operators will have to launch 10% constellations in two years, 50% in five years, and 100% in seven years.
If we fail to launch a sufficient number of satellites by these deadlines, or complete the constellation within the total of 14 years allotted, the spectrum rights will be re-deployed before they expire. limited in proportion to the number specified. Previously, the NGSO project could receive that frequency only by operating the first satellite in his first seven years.
A cursory search of the ITU’s submissions database revealed 384 submissions that appear to be subject to Resolution 35, said George John, senior his associate at law firm Hogan Lovells. Due to idiosyncrasies in the database’s search function that prevent accurate queries, this record is incomplete and some of his NGSO operators request multiple submissions for his one constellation, but these submissions represents conservatively tens of thousands of proposed satellites.
The ITU said in July that it had rejected requests for one-year extensions for all constellations covered by ITU Resolution 35. The petition was submitted by the Government of Liechtenstein and its US-based industrial partner Rivada Space Networks on behalf of all NGSO operators.
Rivada acquired the Spectrum application in early 2022 after the previous owner brought it online in his 2020, spurring a project that continues to be undermined by shareholder disputes. However, the company now needs to launch his 10% of his 600 satellites planned by September 2023 to keep the frequencies alive.
It took him just over a year to deploy his first 60 satellites, and Rivada has yet to start building the spacecraft. Rivada spokesperson Brian Carney said the company is reviewing potential manufacturers for the constellation after issuing a request for proposals in the spring. “We continue to make every effort to meet the applicable deadlines and we expect to be able to meet them,” Carney said. However, he said “owing to international conflict that has removed launch capacity from the industry, together with the economic effects of the pandemic and other unforeseeable factors, every constellation seeking launch and manufacturing capacity is facing constraints outside its control.”
Carney said Rivada petitioned the ITU for the extension “in part to raise awareness of the industry conditions faced by all NGSO constellation currently in the development stage.” Rivada is “not surprised at the rejection of our application,” he added, and expects a final disposition of this matter to come the next time the ITU meets to set rules in 2023.
- the argument for delaying the timelines for constellation deployment
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