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Embracing Advancements across the Satellite Sector: Highlights from Satellite Innovation 2023

River Advisers was delighted to attend Satellite Innovation, a conference focused on the prospective advancements within the satellite and space sector. Over two days, we heard from a number of key experts and thought leaders discussing current business trends and the ground-breaking technologies set to transform the industry.

The domain of satellite business continues to remain at the forefront of the space sector, and we were delighted to contribute our own thoughts on the industry, as all roads lead to the upcoming WRC-23 this month.

FCC and the Space Bureau

Some of the major highlights from the event came from the United States’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with the importance of space a major talking point.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenwercel delivered an insightful presentation referencing the aims of the recently formed Space Bureau. Over the past six months, the FCC has been placing a spotlight on the importance of satellite regulations, with Rosenwercel advising the FCC currently has over 56,000 satellite applications pending - twice the number of applications the Commission was dealing with only four years ago. Satellite communications are essential for broadcasting, broadband, and so much more. As Rosenwercel stated at the event, ‘launches are no longer rare, constellations are no longer small, and satellites are no longer just big, bulky objects destined for decades in our skies’.

The space-focused investments made by the United States now exceed those of all other governments combined, but this is not a surprise: the country has ten times the number of space-focused companies as anywhere else. This is why the FCC set up the Space Bureau - to support United States leadership within the space economy, promoting long-term technical capacity to address satellite policies and improve coordination between other agencies on key issues.

Space Bureau Chief, Julie Kearney, outlined the actions taken since the Space Bureau first opened its doors in April this year. Additional spectrum was allocated within the 2 GHz band to support critical communications during space launches. A number of new rules aimed to quicken the processing of applications for satellites and ground stations were also implemented in September. These have been designed to establish timeframes for placing satellite and Earth station applications on notice for public comment, allow applications to operate in frequencies where international allocation has not been established, and enable Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) licensees to have more than one unbuilt system without the threat of penalization.

The Bureau has also launched a transparency initiative, including easily accessible ‘how-to’ videos, filing system improvements, and workshops to provide greater support to space applications attempting to navigate the tricky licensing process. Kearney also discussed the potential of expanding access to the In-Space Servicing and Manufacturing (ISAM) market. This would help the repairing, refuelling, and ongoing maintenance of satellites in space, as well as assembling whole systems in orbit or building new industries to advance scientific frontiers.

D2D and the plans for WRC

Attendees also heard several discussions surrounding ‘Direct-to-Device’ (D2D) communications. Rosenwercel advised of the FCC’s plans to develop a new regulatory framework to support broader D2D communications, as part of their goal for a ‘Single Network Future’. The FCC’s approach aims to make it easier for satellite operators to collaborate with wireless carriers to access terrestrial spectrum and fill in gaps in coverage from space to essential devices. Through D2D, there will no longer be mobile dead zones; terrestrial wireless and satellite capabilities will be brought together to achieve what neither network can do alone to ensure reliable connectivity everywhere.

D2D was also a talking point within our very own Katherine Gizinski’s Tech Brief, which covered the topics to watch out for at the upcoming WRC-23. Katherine implored the satellite industry to present a unified voice and take their seat at the table, as rules are written for national and international spectrum use. In today’s market, the competition is no longer limited to other satellite companies, but all users of RF spectrum, including Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and fixed services. This means greater cooperation is required, as satellite is rarely just a national business. The satellite industry continues to advance at a rapid rate, to the point it has now outpaced existing regulations; the onus is now on the key players within the sector to change this.

Katherine also provided keen insight into frequency bands and how they affect every part of the satellite industry, from where to spend research and development resources to how likely a company’s sales pipeline is to materialise, or how far away a start-up is from generating revenue. Within the brief, Katherine outlined the Agenda Items likely to greatly impact the satellite sector, be it regionally or globally. This included a focus on Agenda Item 10, which sets the stage for studies to be completed for WRC-27. One of the considerations relates to the technical and operational characteristics for D2D communications.

Ahead of WRC-23 and WRC-27, the need for an ordered regulatory framework that supports consistency across country borders and considers existing operations was discussed extensively on the D2D panel. Dr Anton Monk, the VP and CTO of Wireless Initiatives at Viasat advised that “it’s going to require global cooperation amongst spectrum holders, and if broader applications are to be sorted, and if we’re all successful there won’t be enough capacity for any one provider. It will be multi-orbit, multi-spectrum, GEO plus LEO, L plus S plus terrestrial”.

One of the leading voices at WRC-23 will be the FCC, who will be advocating for the United States’ government and industry interests. In her presentation, Kearney discussed formulating the country’s positions as they prepare for WRC-23. The country is leading the way on import issues like the identification of additional spectrum for Earth stations in motion, space-to-space links, Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) and MSS alongside Geostationary Orbit (GSO) and NGSO sharing. Lunar communication is also a key consideration for the regulator, and we look forward to hearing these discussions play out at the conference.

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