Smallsat companies band together in new spectrum-advocacy organization
LONDON — Eleven small satellite companies are establishing a trade association to address spectrum policies and regulations specific to the no-longer-tiny smallsat industry.
The group, called the Commercial Smallsat Spectrum Management Association, or CSSMA, will focus on issues unique to smallsats not addressed by the Satellite Industry Association, whose membership largely consists of established geostationary satellite operators, launch providers, and network operators.
Founding members of the CSSMA are satellite operators Astro Digital, HawkEye 360, Kepler Communications, Planet and Spire; ground station operators KSAT and RBC Signals; manufacturer Blue Canyon Technologies; law firm Hogan Lovells; NanoRacks and the nonprofit research organization Aerospace Corporation.
Four CSSMA members — Planet, Spire, Aerospace Corp. and HawkEye 360 — are also part of Washington-based SIA.
CSSMA members hope that their collective voices will gain more attention when it comes to spectrum access.
“The speed with which small satellite technologies can be brought to market is rapidly outpacing the ability of the current coordination process to manage the use of shared spectrum,” the association said in a statement. “CSSMA will bring together the small satellite community to collaborate with all space industry participants and government agencies to streamline the frequency coordination process.”
In an interview with SpaceNews, Jonathan Rosenblatt, Spire’s general counsel, said a notice of proposed rule making from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission expected early next year about small satellites will be a “big priority” for CSSMA. Similarly, smallsat rule-making at the 2019 World Radiocommunications Conference — the United Nation’s once-every-four-years gathering of governments, regulators and companies to address international spectrum allocations — sits near the top of the association’s agenda, he said.
“Legacy satellite providers often deal with different issues and have their own organizations, such as SIA, and we don’t want to duplicate those organizations,” Rosenblatt said. “We really want to fill a niche and give a voice to a new and growing part of the industry which has unique spectrum and operational needs.”
CSSMA doesn’t have a specific definition of who is and who isn’t part of the small satellite industry. Rosenblatt described the industry as existing and prospective small satellite operators and associated service providers (such as launch, manufacture and ground station services).
“We want to be a broad and inclusive organization,” he said.
For smallsat operators, frequency coordinations can be a life or death issue. CSSMA said failure to make peace with the myriad of incumbent spectrum users “may result in missed launches and even the possibility of shutdown of assets in space.”
Rosenblatt said leaders in the association, prior to its recent formalization, had been meeting together consistently for over a year now amongst themselves and with representatives from U.S. federal agencies including the FCC, NASA and NOAA. He said those members began the formalization process a few months ago. Federal agencies are allowed an observer status to continue their participation and view-sharing, he said.
In addition to spectrum, Rosenblatt said CSSMA will also address orbital debris mitigation — a larger concern in low-Earth orbit where most smallsats dwell — U.S. and international licensing processes, and will follow legislation that impacts the smallsat industry.
CSSMA will also seek to educate new entrants on how to avoid hurdles when starting a smallsat business.
“The smallsat industry is growing at an incredible rate and new companies need to understand the operational and regulatory challenges ahead of them,” Craig Scheffler, Planet’s spectrum manager, said in a statement. “There is a lot of ‘know how’ that we can share to help increase the odds of success and make this community stronger.”
While most CSSMA founding members are American, Rosenblatt said the group hopes to grow internationally as its numbers rise.
Update: the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab joined as CSSMA’s twelfth founding member shortly after this article was published.