Swarm Technologies Has Seven Satellites But Had a Fine of $900K from the FCC

Three new Swarm satellites were launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) on the SpaceX SSO-A on December 3.

Swarm now has a constellation of seven satellites.

The Federal Communications Commission settled an investigation into Swarm Technologies’ unauthorized launch and operation of small satellites. The company agreed to a settlement which included a $900,000 penalty, an extended period of FCC oversight, and a requirement of pre-launch notices to the Commission, among other stipulations.

In April 2017, Swarm applied for an experimental radio service license to deploy and operate two earth stations and four small satellites, called SpaceBEEs or BEEs (Basic Electronic Elements). The FCC denied Swarm’s application in December 2017 over concerns about the ability to track the satellites. Swarm nevertheless launched the satellites on January 12, 2018.

The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology and the International Bureau will continue to consider Swarm applications on a case-by-case basis.

Swarm Technologies is a three-year-old satellite company committed to providing accessible, low-cost global connectivity.

19 thoughts on “Swarm Technologies Has Seven Satellites But Had a Fine of $900K from the FCC”

  1. Looks like I might have to eat my words. The new filings with the FCC for their 150 sat constellation using picosats apparently will include some sort of radar reflector according to people who have perused the filings.

  2. The world agreement has existed for a while now. You do not get legal access to space without the permission of a state space treaty signatory.

  3. We should make asteroids announce their selves to the bigger sats because it is only fair. It isn’t like picosats are more of an issue than pebbles in orbit.

  4. It is a world rule. You can’t launch or do space stuff without State approval…and all states are owned by the super rich for the most part.

  5. Larger entities should operate independent of the need to track small sats…why? Because space is filled with crap like that on it’s own anyways.

  6. Orbit is filled with much more hazards of which no one can track. These organizations know where their sats are. Perhaps, we merely need them to release telemetry about position and make this a requirement for all entities, even “secret” gubmint ones.

  7. If nothing bad happened, the policy is over reaching. Rules exist for reasons. The FCC exists to ensure public safety…The outcome is what is important, not blind obedience to authority- that is only important to stupid people who can’t understand the rules they follow.

  8. Not quite, as this incident has now gotten other launch providers to seal rideshare payloads in their deployers if they don’t present a radio license prior to launch. The launch providers are taking on some of the responsibility here, ostensibly to keep the government from trying to (excessively) regulate the situation. This sealing has occurred recently actually, I think for sats by this company.

  9. That’s a lovely idea, but hard in practice with cubesats, and these picosats in particular, as embedding a large enough corner reflector robs the sat of internal space, and deploying something that doesn’t have other immediate value relative to increased drag area is a tough sell. Note these things have basically measuring tapes wrapped around them that deploy mostly due to shape memory, which function as antennas and as mediocre gravity gradient stabilization. While one could potentially apply a sail like surface between these pseudo-booms, that vastly increases drag for no other benefit. Now, if you had a thin mylar surface with flexible PV panels on it, then the increased power could justify the drag increase. But again, at this picosat size, just making anything deployable is a real pain. The antennas are just tape wrapped around the outer body, which can be easily deployed by burning a retention string free.

  10. The obvious answer to “But your pico-satellites can’t be passively detected!” is to improve detection capabilities. A network of janitor satellites in orbit capable of detecting and removing dead satellites and satellite fragments is really what is needed.

  11. why do they feel the need to pay the FCC fine? is that because if they dont they wont be allowed to use US based launch providers?

  12. So, the bottom line is, there’s now a market for “pirate” launches of cargoes unapproved of by governmental agencies?

    Well, good! That shows the space age is becoming real, not just a government funded illusion.

  13. The problem is that other countries will allow things like this to take place, so until the entire world agree to regulate outer space the only thing they are doing is giving other countries a leg up on US competition. There definitely needs to be a time period of deregulated innovation, and yes some of it will cause damage and accidents, but I think trying to prevent every possible accident, when we are talking about unexplored technologies is futile and anti-progress. Accidents are the cost of progress and innovation. Regulations will have to come later when everyone agrees otherwise it will stifle progress and innovation. The FCC needs to stop thinking their are the world’s space cop. First they should worry about detecting flying commercial airliners into skyscrapers. After that debacle, I can’t say I trust them very much to have the expertise on whether satellites in space can be detected.

  14. Nice comment there. This site contents is usually lacking and you’ve added a lot of good info that could be in the article itself.

  15. While I appreciate the history behind why the FCC is the defacto satellite licensing authority in the US, and why they aren’t that fast right now, there is plenty of criticism for the FCC process.

    That said, these startup bros flying pico satellites that can’t be reliably passively detected was a real FCC complaint with a real basis. 3cm edge on is really hard to detect with current “space fence” type debris radar scans done the US and partner nations. Their alleged “solution” of using an active transponder doesn’t help when it eventually dies due to space exposure. About the only thing going for it is the low altitude so it won’t take that long to disappear.

    It’s good that these silicon valley bros got burned for trying to pull this stunt. They were allegedly trying to shop around at other licensing bureaus in other countries (much like ship flags of convenience), so it shows they were aware and actively attempting to skirt FCC rulings.

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