FCC commissioner questions regulator’s omission from National Space Council

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WASHINGTON — An FCC commissioner said Tuesday she was astonished the White House did not give the telecom regulatory agency a seat on the National Space Council.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said April 17 that the Federal Communications Commission “needs to coordinate more closely with other federal authorities” as it navigates through new space activities.

“Right now the National Space Council is considering policy changes to help promote the growth of the commercial space industry,” she said. “Their efforts encompass everything from streamlining licenses to reforming export controls, protecting airwaves, to facilitating space activities … the FCC should have a seat at the table. It’s a glaring omission that this agency does not, because through our oversight of the airwaves and licensing of satellite services, we have an important role ensuring the viability of space for future generations.”

Rosenworcel noted that the National Space Council as revived by the Trump administration last year has a distinguished list of leaders, including the head of NASA, the secretaries of defense, transportation and homeland security, and others, calling it “an impressive list.”

But “cutting the FCC out of this discussion is an unseemly mistake, and one that deserves a fix,” she said.

Rosenworcel said space debris, a topic Vice President Michael Pence addressed in a speech Monday at the 34th Space Symposium, is a topic the FCC “needs to tackle.” The FCC weighs space debris concerns when licensing satellites to use radiofrequency spectrum in the United States. In his speech, Pence said the National Space Council has put together “the first comprehensive space traffic management policy,” and will soon send it to President Donald Trump for approval.

Neither the vice president nor Commissioner Rosenworcel made mention of each other’s work in the field of space debris during their speeches.

“Unchecked, growing debris in orbit could make some regions of space unusable for decades to come,” Rosenworcel said. “That’s not an acceptable outcome. It’s why we need right now to develop a comprehensive policy to mitigate collision risks and ensure space sustainability.”

Pence said the National Space Council’s new policy “directs the Department of Commerce to provide a basic level of space situational awareness for public and private use, based on the space catalog compiled by the Department of Defense.”

Previously, Federal Aviation Administration officials had advocated for that responsibility.