Scientists, Astronomers, National Security Experts Sue FCC Over Satellite Safety

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On March 11, 2021, a Petition for Emergency/Expedited Rulemaking was filed by a coalition of more than 250 organizations from over 60 countries with the FCC  (link to FCC filing) seeking a 180 day Pause on the FCC’s major federal program of extending carte blanche blanket licenses to over 80,000 satellites and millions of base/earth stations over the next 10 years, pending a comprehensive interagency assessment of the risks. Below is a copy of the press release, and a link to one early news report on the case.

This petition is not the only concern raised about the growing numbers of satellites.  In 2020, a group of astronomers argued in a 16-page letter, posted on January 29, that the Starlink constellation jeopardizes viewing conditions for the world’s ground-based astronomical observatories, which rely on a darkened sky to observe the universe (source).

The petitioners believe our request for a 180 Day Pause on all new satellite launches, blanket licenses for base/earth stations, and elevation modifications is reasonable and necessitated by international and federal law. A 180 day Pause will give the U.S. government and the international community a timely opportunity to mobilize the best experts in government and the public sector to focus on 8 domains of national and international security risks (please see Figures #1 and #2 in the Petition).

Press Release Online Link 

Press Release

Scientists, Astronomers, National Security Experts Sue FCC Over Satellite Safety

Trump Administration Failure Allowed FCC to Ignore Concerns for 4 Years

Today, a coalition of more than 250 organizations from over 60 countries including scientists, astronomers, national security experts, environmentalists, and advocates filed a legal brief with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) entitled “Petition for Emergency/Expedited Rulemaking.” Petitioners are requesting a 180-day Pause on the FCC’s piecemeal licensing of more than 80,000 low orbit, non-geostatioary satellites and millions of base/earth stations in the U.S. The group argues that permitting a few satellite companies is jeopardizing international security and the environment. For the past four years the Trump Administration actively encouraged the FCC to ignore, notwithstanding urgent appeals from other federal agencies, international organizations, and the UN.

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“The FCC’s piecemeal grants of 80,000+ satellites and millions of base/earth stations are placing in reckless jeopardy a Public Trust for all of humanity, future generations, and the living environment,” said Julian Gresser, attorney and former advisor to the US State Department.

This Public Trust is recognized and protected by numerous international treaties and conventions, signed and ratified by the U.S. Moreover, the FCC’s program is being implemented in open defiance of major federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, that require U.S. agencies to demonstrate a reasoned process of decision making supported by a credible record, which is entirely absent in the “Satellite Experiment.” Contrary to well established regulatory and business practices, the Satellite Experiment is being pressed forward by a few companies without regulatory transparency, much less any provision for indemnification or insurance. In plain terms, the public is being asked without its consent to shoulder all the risks and to pay for all the harms.

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The group argues that an immediate and proven, safe and secure, environmentally protective and energy efficient alternative to 80,000+ commercial satellites and millions of base/earth stations is Optical Fiber Wired to the Premises. Petitioners urge that Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) be prioritized over satellites as a national strategic engine of economic growth, job creation, and resilient infrastructure, offering an effective solution for the Digital Divide in rural America.

“Cybersecurity is one of those rare areas where diverse and apparently opposing interests,” continued Gresser. “The satellite industry, environmental and consumer groups, and the government — all align. Given the astronomic costs of an effective cyber-attack on a satellite constellation, SpaceX, Kuiper and other satellite companies have as much interest in a protective cybersecurity regulatory regime as the general public.”

“This is not just some inconvenience; radio astronomy as a profession, for example, could be totally annihilated and unable to operate in a few years, despite the billion-dollar investments for the large facilities on the ground.” – Stefano Gallozzi, Ph.D. Founder, Safeguarding the Astronomical Skies Foundation

“Our work in the Congo rainforest has made us keenly aware of the delicate balance of Earth’s ecosystems and the deleterious effect of humanity’s overconsumption of resources. Time is running out for us to maintain a healthy planet, and we as a species cannot afford to keep making rash decisions with potentially global consequences, such as the launch of over 80,000 satellites and millions of Earth-based stations, without appropriate scientific studies and risk assessments.” – Sally Jewell Coxe, Founder and President Bonobo Conservation Initiative

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Some Critical Questions:

  • Satellite Collisions: Why are we allowing more and more satellites into increasingly overcrowded orbits filled with mounting debris? (e.g. a near miss by 60 feet of two dead satellites occurred over Pittsburgh in January 2020).
  • Cybersecurity/Privacy: Why is the FCC not heeding the warning from two major cybersecurity breaches just in the past two months (Russian Solarwinds malware hack and the Chinese hacking of Microsoft)? What are the potential costs of a hostile takeover of operational control of a satellite constellation, or a massive invasion of privacy? Why is the FCC not requiring sign-off by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) as a pre-condition for all satellite/base station licenses?
  • Environmental Harms: Why has the FCC not prepared a Comprehensive Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on this major federal action which is causing diverse environmental harms from chemical and light pollution, impairment of the ozone layer and associated climate change risks, interference with weather prediction and astronomical research?

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