Smallsat Designer Flees UK Ofcom for US FCC

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PRAUGE — In what sounds like a man-bites-dog story, a British designer of a small-satellite constellation said he fled the U.K. to license his system with the U.S. FCC.

The FCC is known as among the world’s biggest and baddest national regulators. It is said to check the accuracy of filings before passing them on to the International Telecommunication Union, and it charges what some small-satellite owners view as onerous fees for commercial satellites or satellites that are more than amateur undertakings.

The U.K. Office of Communications, which is Britain’s FCC, made a point at the ITU Symposium on Small Satellite Regulation of saying Ofcom, unlike the FCC and other agencies, charges no fees, for cost recovery or anything else.

Britain is home, in the regulatory sense, to Bermuda and the Isle of Man, both of which have pitched their low-tax status to lure satellite operators to register there. “We definitely want to support small-satellite systems,” an Ofcom official said.

While all of this is true, it is also true that the U.K. government mandates the purchase of third-party liability insurance by all satellite owners, no matter their size.

“You need to get around 60 million euros ($70 million) of insurance, which you can get these days for a premium of about 1 percent per year — that’s 600,000 euros,” said the British designer of the now-American satellite system. “As a percent of my total budget, this is huge. That’s why I went to the U.S. and I would encourage others to consider similar moves.”

Mike Willis of the U.K. Space Agency, said the British government is aware of the issue and has stated it would review the policy. Britain in the past three years has targeted space technology as a driver of economic growth, and has encouraged the development of companies designing small satellites.