TAMPA, Fla. — The Federal Communications Commission established a standalone Space Bureau April 11 to be led by Julie Kearney, a law and policy veteran tasked with spearheading its efforts to modernize satellite regulations.

Before joining the FCC as a special counsel in February, Kearney spent decades at private legal practices and telecoms companies, including balloon-based venture Loon where she headed communications regulation and policy until internet giant Alphabet scrapped the project in 2021.

During a ceremony in Washington to officially launch the Space Bureau, Kearney said her first priority is “modernizing regulations to match our new realities,” including faster processing times in response to unprecedented demand for new satellites.

Falling costs to build and launch increasingly powerful spacecraft have led to applications for more than 60,000 new satellites before the FCC, mostly in low Earth orbit (LEO).

Kearney said the regulator is “wrapping up comment cycles for expedited processing of applications,” adding that it is “simultaneously focusing on space orbital debris and space safety.”

In September, the FCC adopted rules to shorten the time operators must remove expired LEO satellites as part of sweeping changes to how it regulates the industry.

Kearney also pointed to rules proposed March 17 over the use of terrestrial wireless spectrum from space for connecting smartphones, and a vote April 20 to revise spectrum-sharing regulations for satellites.

Sharper space focus

The Space Bureau was carved out of the FCC’s International Bureau to help the regulator handle its increasing workload in the industry. 

The restructuring effectively splits the International Bureau into two units: the Space Bureau and the Office of International Affairs (OIA) that will handle the FCC’s work with foreign and international regulatory authorities more generally.

Ethan Lucarelli, who most recently served as legal advisor to FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel on wireless and international policy issues, was appointed OIA chief.

Rosenworcel proposed the reorganization Nov. 3 and the regulator unanimously voted to approve it just two months later. The reorganization will be officially complete once a formal notice has been published in the Federal Register.

“There are now so many new technologies in the space industry, so many new applications pending before this agency, and so many more innovations on the horizon,” Rosenworcel said during the April 11 ceremony, “but I don’t think this agency can keep doing things the old way and thrive in the new.” 

Kearney also said the Space Bureau will seek to be more transparent about its work, which will include more outreach to other government bodies and the companies it regulates, but she did not provide further details.

The regulator’s decision to impose a five-year deadline for de-orbing LEO satellites, down from 25 years, drew criticism from leaders of the House Science Committee who questioned its authority in September to make such sweeping changes. 

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...