Prior to closing down in 2019, Audacy planned to send three large satellites into medium Earth orbit to relay communications from satellites, launch vehicles and crewed spacecraft to ground stations. Credit: Audacy

SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission granted a spectrum license June 7 to Audacy, the Silicon Valley startup planning to establish a space-based commercial communications relay network.

“Our business would not be possible without the access to commercial spectrum,” Ralph Ewig, Audacy chief executive, told SpaceNews. The license “is extremely important in terms of credibility. It helps with fundraising as much as it does with customer traction.”

Audacy plans to send large satellites into medium Earth orbit and to begin providing services in 2020 for satellite, human spaceflight and launch vehicle operators including data downlink, continuous monitoring and command services.

“Customers get very excited when we say, “You no longer need to constrain your orbit to be over ground stations. You no longer have to design your satellites to store and forward because we can downlink in real time. You could even do remote operations of your satellite in real time if you wanted to,” Ewig said.

Audacy worked for two years to win FCC license approval. “We were fortunate to have the support of the FCC in all this,” Ewig said, citing particular help from Troy Tanner, deputy chief of the FCC’s International Bureau and Jose Albuquerque who heads the International Bureau’s Satellite Division.

While seeking the FCC license, Audacy completed its network architecture and began work on ground stations. The firm is plans to complete its first teleport in September near its Mountain View, California, headquarters and its second teleport in Singapore in February.

The spectrum license was a key milestone in Audacy’s business plan. With it in hand, Audacy will have access to additional funds from its current investors, Ewig said. “It also allows us to go back to our customers who have signed nonbinding agreements and say, ‘We now have confirmation this is real and will be available by a certain date, let’s talk about turning these into binding contracts,’” he added.

Audacy has not yet announced a manufacture for its satellites or communications payloads. However, the company has revealed plans for two precursor missions. Audacy plans to launch a three-unit cubesat built by Clyde Space on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission this fall to test the satellite terminals Audacy designed to connect customers with its network. Audacy also is preparing to send its high data-rate radio to the NanoRacks External Payload Platform on International Space Station, in a mission called Audacy Lynq.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...