FCC grants Telesat LEO market access despite ViaSat protests

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WASHINGTON — Following market approval given to OneWeb in June, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Nov. 3 granted global fleet operator Telesat permission to reach the U.S. with a constellation of 117 low-Earth orbit satellites.

Competitor and partner ViaSat of Carlsbad, California, which operates geostationary satellites and is awaiting FCC approval for a medium-Earth orbit system, had urged the FCC to deny Telesat’s filing, but was largely rebuffed.

Canada-based Telesat is the second LEO constellation after OneWeb to receive market access from the United States.

The FCC also granted Space Norway market access Nov. 3 to reach the U.S. with two satellites in non-geostationary elliptical orbits. Both Telesat and ViaSat sought to block Space Norway.

The first two prototype satellites in Telesat’s constellation launch this year, one on a Russian Soyuz and another on the Indian Space Research Organisation’s return-to-flight-mission of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

Telesat plans to select a manufacturer for its constellation next year, and start launching in 2020, leading up to activation in 2021. The full constellation will support broadband communications with several terabits of total capacity.

FCC spokesperson Neil Derek Grace told SpaceNews Nov. 6 that the commission accepted one of ViaSat’s requests, namely that all non-geosynchronous (NGSO) grants be conditioned on the outcome of the FCC’s September rulemaking. Those September changes include giving prospective fleet operators six years to orbit half of their constellations instead of the entirety before forfeiting their spectrum.

Two other ViaSat petitions were rejected, the first being that NGSO fixed satellite services systems “should be limited to the technical parameters specified in their applications rather than what is permitted by the Commission’s rules and the [International Telecommunication Union] Radio Regulations,” he said.

The other petition, related to both aggregate interference impacting geostationary satellites and the appropriateness of existing equivalent power flux-density (EPFD) metrics, was rejected because “to a certain extent these matters were addressed” in the September rulemaking.

The FCC did decline Telesat’s request that its constellation should have spectrum priority based on filing date with the ITU. Telesat has consistently touted having priority Ka-band rights through the ITU, which Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada helped secure.

The FCC did include conditions on Telesat, such as a need to clarify space debris mitigation as the constellation progresses.

Debris battle with OneWeb, Spire

OneWeb and Spire both took up space situational awareness issues about Telesat LEO with the FCC. OneWeb said Telesat should have a 125-kilometer buffer zone separating Telesat LEO from other NGSO constellations. Spire complained that Telesat didn’t provide enough information about how the operator will deorbit its satellites.

Telesat has yet to finalize the design of its LEO constellation, so the operator submitted a preliminary orbital debris mitigation analysis. The FCC said it still wants a final orbital debris mitigation plan later on — a request Spire made after questioning the adequacy of Telesat’s orbital debris showing.

Regarding the buffer zone, the FCC said it is concerned about the risk of satellite collisions, but believes “that these concerns are best addressed in the first instance through inter-operator coordination.”

“At this stage, we do not think it appropriate to specify the methods for effecting coordination, which may involve a wide range of changes in system design and operations,” the agency wrote.

The FCC added that since OneWeb is based in Britain’s Channel Islands and Telesat is in Canada, their constellations “are authorized by other administrations,” and therefore the commission won’t, at this stage, prescribe a solution. If Telesat and other NGSO constellations can’t coordinate their orbits, then the FCC said it might intervene.