Swarm Technologies has been fined $900,000 for launching 4 picosatellites in January on one Indian rocket without regulatory approval by US Federal Communications Commission. FCC rejected the startup’s application for experimental authorization for communicating with the spacecraft as the satellites, being 1/4th of a standard single-unit cubesat’s size, couldn’t be tracked reliably after entering orbit. The fine levied against Swarm is insignificant as compared to the $120m fine charged for spoofed robocall operations this year. Michael O’Rielly, Commissioner of FCC, said that although the amount isn’t very huge, the not-so-positive press coverage will likely prevent any such incident in the future. The actions of Swarm invited negative criticism from the satellite industry.
The FCC had earlier denied permission to Swarm to launch 4 satellites on a Rocket Lab Electron mission back in April. The company Spaceflight, that had arranged the January launch of Swarm’s satellites on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, said that it’ll now check to see if customers have required licenses beforehand and not rely on them for self-regulation. Even prior to the January launch, Swarm had conducted other unauthorized activities like communication tests with ground stations and weather balloons, FCC found during investigation. Furthermore, it’d illegally made communications with ‘SpaceBee’ satellites for over one week with use of earth stations located in Georgia. Rosemary Harold of FCC said that enforcement of FCC regulations will be made aggressive so that space may remain a safe place for operation, with no occurrence of collisions or radio interference.
Apart from the 7 SpaceBee satellites of Swarm currently in orbit, 3 more were launched on December 3, authorization request for which was approved by FCC in September. Co-founder and CEO of Swarm, Sara Spangelo, said that investigations had been conducted smoothly since March, when the investigation began. The 7 SpaceBee satellites are being tracked consistently by LeoLabs and Space Surveillance Network of US Air Force. Swarm has been directed by FCC to implement a compliance plan, according to which pre-launch notices containing all details will have to be submitted for 36 months to FCC. Also, employees will have to undergo compliance training if their work meets FCC communications laws.