Growing commercial interest in the moon, such as Lockheed Martin's Parsec network, may lead the ITU to take up how to regulate lunar communications. Credit: Lockheed Martin

LAS VEGAS — Discussions at an upcoming major telecommunications conference may set the stage for future work regulating lunar communications.

During a panel discussion at AIAA’s ASCEND conference here Oct. 23, an official with International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said delegates at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023, or WRC-23, may decide to put lunar communications on the agenda for the following conference in 2027.

“That’s probably going to lead to some of the most interesting technical preparatory work,” said Joanne Wilson, deputy to the director of the ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau.

WRC-23 is scheduled for Nov. 20 to Dec. 15 in Dubai, where countries will debate changes to the Radio Regulations, the treaty-level agreement governing terrestrial and satellite radio communications. The meeting will also set the agenda for the following WRC in 2027.

She did not elaborate on specific issues regarding lunar communications that the ITU might consider, but said the time was now to start considering them. “If you look at the timeframe it takes to build out the space economy and so forth, you can see that this is the next step, a building block to future approaches to regulation of spectrum not just on the lunar surface but on other planetary bodies as well.”

In an article published by the ITU in July, Cathy Sham, lunar and human spaceflight spectrum manager at NASA and chair of an ITU working group on space communications, noted growing demand for spectrum for activities on and around the moon. “Mission planners, engineers, scientists, architects, and regulatory experts must work together to ensure adequate radio spectrum access for all users,” she wrote.

Two specific topics Sham mentioned in the article is protecting future radio astronomy observatories on the far side of the moon, shielded from terrestrial signals, from interference by spacecraft, as well as the feasibility of spectrum allocations for space research at the moon.

The Federal Communications Commission, meanwhile, has received applications for spectrum for lunar communications, said Julie Kearney, chief of the FCC’s new Space Bureau, on the panel. One example she cited is a proposal by Lockheed Martin for a network of satellites called Parsec providing communications and navigation services. Crescent Space Services, a new Lockheed subsidiary, would operate the satellites offer commercial services using them.

The FCC has issued its first license for lunar communications, she said. An Oct. 5 grant of authority to Intuitive Machines covers communications with its first Nova-C lunar lander flying on the IM-1 mission to the moon. IM-1 is scheduled to launch as soon as November, landing a week after launch and operating there for up to two weeks.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...