The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) confirmed on Friday that it is investigating the unauthorized launch of four satellites by satellite maker Swarm Technologies in January this year.
Swarm was founded in 2016 by former Google engineer Sara Spangelo and former Apple engineer Benjamin Longmier. In January this year, the company launched the first four SpaceBee satellites using an Indian-made PSLV rocket. This move was severely reprimanded by the FCC because the committee rejected the company’s rocket launch as early as a month ago.
The FCC confirmed that it has also cancelled the authorization of Swarm to launch another four satellites with the help of Rocket Lab in April this year.
“We have learned about the situation. Now that we have cancelled the authorization to launch new satellites, we are now fully investigating the matter. A spokesperson for the FCC said.
“We are finally reviewing the launch manifest. Rocket Lab will not launch spacecraft without relevant government approvals. "Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement."
Anthony Serafini, the head of the FCC's experimental authorization department, informed the FCC that he was preparing to investigate the incident in an email sent to Swarm CEO Spangaro. The FCC informed Spangaro that it had cancelled the company’s authorization to launch satellites in April, “to assess the impact of the company’s unauthorized launch of satellites in January”.
According to another report, Serafinney is concerned that mini-technology is difficult to track in space orbit because these satellites are small and only have home-network routers. Swarm has tried various ways to make these satellites easier to track, such as GPS satellite locators and experimental radar reflectors. However, Serrafini is still very worried about these two methods, so the FCC rejected Swarm's satellite launch application.
According to informed sources, Spaceflight Industries, which used the PSLV-40 rocket to provide cargo space for 19 satellites, helped Swarm launch the four unauthorized satellites. Spaceflight is the middleman between Swarm and the rocket provider (Antrix, the Indian space research organization's business unit). In the first three days of launching the satellite, Spaceflight received an e-mail from Swarm saying that the relevant FCC approvals will soon come down.
Although Spaceflight knew this was unusual, it did not know what the FCC had asked Swarm. Therefore, Anttris and Spaceflight finally launched these satellites. According to people familiar with the matter, there are "grey zones" in the relevant international regulations between launch service providers, cargo space vendors and the FCC. These grey areas allow unauthorized satellites to be launched into orbit, and then wait for the approval of the documents before they begin to transmit signals. The United States has a relatively strict management system, but such launches are legally feasible.
It has been reported that Spangaro’s work at Google includes developing the spacecraft concept for the X department. The department has been drumming a variety of experimental long-term projects, many of which may never be realized.
However, informed sources refuted this claim, saying that Spangaro has not done such work. However, before she left Google to start Swarm, she did work for two projects in the X department, such as the Wing project —— drone express service project and Rapid Evaluation project.
The FCC dismissed Swarm's application for fear of space debris. According to informed sources, there are no federal agencies that have the same regulatory authority as the FCC. The FCC is responsible for overseeing all these launch activities, but most meetings recently held by the U.S. Space Commission indicate that this kind of management power may fall into the hands of the Ministry of Commerce. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross declared that he hopes to make the Department of Commerce a "one-stop window" for administrative approval of the commercial space industry.