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Home News The IAU Applauds Important Federal Communications Commission Step Towards Regulation of Space

The IAU Applauds Important Federal Communications Commission Step Towards Regulation of Space

Nov. 7, 2022
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is delighted that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the US government has announced its intention to create a new office dedicated to space.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is delighted that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the US government has announced its intention to create a new office dedicated to space. The FCC is responsible for regulating communications networks both within the US and internationally, and the proposed new office would be better equipped to address the emerging issue of large satellite constellations — a key concern for the IAU.

Last month the IAU sent a letter on behalf of the global astronomy community, urging the FCC to seriously consider the risks that such constellations pose to the science of astronomy, the appearance of the pristine night sky, and the environment.

While satellite constellations represent a step forward in improving world connectivity, their brightness in the sky interferes with astronomical observations, and could severely hamper progress in our understanding of the cosmos. The letter emphasises that the Universe is a unique laboratory, which allows us to explore physical situations at the boundaries of our knowledge that would never be possible to recreate on Earth. Furthermore, the pristine night sky is an important aspect of humanity’s shared cultural heritage, and should be protected for society at large and for future generations.

From a financial perspective, many countries have made significant investments in major ground-based astronomical observatories, acknowledging the importance of the research they conduct. If satellite constellations reduce these observatories’ capabilities, it may significantly decrease the value of those investments. While the IAU understands the importance of communications satellites, and does not seek to prevent their deployment, it believes that all factors should be seriously considered in decision-making processes around their licensing.

Last week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a study on the effects of large satellite constellations, and made the recommendation that the FCC should review its licensing processes for them. At a Satellite Industry Association event on 3 November 2022, the FCC chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, referenced the rapidly rising numbers of satellites being proposed for launch. She announced her intention to address this by reorganising the FCC’s International Bureau into a new Space Bureau and an Office of International Affairs. This would give the proposed Space Bureau more resources to deal with this pressing issue.

“This organisation will help ensure that the new Space Bureau and the Office of International Affairs stay relevant, efficient and effective over time,” said Jessica Rosenworcel.

Piero Benvenuti said “We believe this is an important step in the right direction. With its mission to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy, the IAU is at the forefront of efforts to protect the night sky from artificial disturbances. To this end, we have established the IAU Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference (IAU CPS) and have successfully drawn the attention of the UN Committee for the Peaceful Use of Outer Space to the issue”.

As part of Space4OurPlanet, the IAU is participating in an exhibition at the UN Headquarters in New York City in October–November 2022, in which the IAU activities that contribute to the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals are highlighted. This work includes the work of the IAU CPS. 

The IAU will continue to foster cooperation between the astronomy community, the space industry and satellite companies.

Notes

The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 12 000 active professional astronomers from more than 100 countries worldwide. Its mission is to promote and safeguard astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.

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Contacts

Piero Benvenuti
Director of the IAU Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite
Constellation Interference 
Email: piero.benvenuti@cps.iau.org

Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Director of Communications
Cell: +1 520 461 0433/+49 173 38 72 621
Email: lars.christensen@noirlab.edu

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