The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it has reached a settlement with Swarm over its unauthorized launch of satellites last year. It all started about one year ago when the FCC denied Swarm’s application for a license to launch a set of small satellites, which they called SpaceBEEs. Swarm sent the four tiny devices into orbit on an Indian PSLV rocket.
At the time, the FCC claimed that these satellites were too small to be tracked reliably on Earth. This would make it hard to know if these SpaceBEEs were in the path of other satellites, which could result in orbital collisions.
Apparently Swarm launched these satellites in January—approval or not—and that prompted, inevitably, an FCC investigation. It is that investigation which has resulted in this settlement that now requires Swarm to pay a penalty of $900,000 for their actions as well as submit extended oversight to the FCC over the next few years.
In a statement, FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold commented that the agency will “aggressively enforce” all FCC requirements when a company seeks authorization to deploy and operate “communication satellites and earth stations.” She goes on to say that fulfilling these obligations is very important in order to “protect other operators against radio interference and collisions.” This will ensure the safest environment for all who wish to operate in space.
Furthermore, the FCC said it will continue to consider any new applications from Swarm, though it will be on a case-by-case basis. After all, the agency did issue a temporary license that allowed Swarm to launch additional satellites in October.
Of course, Swarm has agreed to readily submit pre-launch reports to the agency over the next three years. Swarm has also agreed to submit annual compliance reports to the FCC over the next five years and appoint to its board a compliance officer. In a statement, Swarm co-founder and CEO Sara Spangelo said that the company accepts the FCC’s decision and appreciates their willingness to support Swarm’s mission in future endeavors.
Perhaps it is Swarm’s youth in this field that the FCC is being so patient. The [unauthorized] January 12th launch was the company’s first. It was founded by aerospace engineers Sara Spangelo (previously of Google X) and Benjamin Longmier, in 2017, with backing funds from NASA and the US Navy and the National Science Foundation.