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Webinar: The Commercialization of Outer Space: Multinational Considerations in US Licenses of 80,000+ Satellites

January 20, 2021 @ 2:00 pm 4:00 pm

2 Participatory MCLE Credits

During the past 36 months, the FCC has made a series of decisions, at an accelerating pace, that may alter forever the Heavens as humans have come to experience them well before the dawn of recorded history. These decisions include: 

  • Licenses to launch hundreds of rockets, each containing scores of satellites to be placed into low- and very-low earth orbit(s);
  • Blanket licenses for millions of earth stations;
  • Modifications in satellite elevations from low- to very-low earth orbit(s); and
  • Expedited consideration and approvals of over 80,000 non-geostationary  very-low-orbit satellites.
  • Scientists and public interest advocates around the world are voicing concerns that the FCC’s satellite program presents a national and international security risk from multiple perspectives.

These risks include:

  • Hostile acts of sabotage (military security);
  • Vulnerability to malware and hacking, and seizures of operational control (cybersecurity);
  • Collisions and debris (accidents);
  • Interference with weather prediction and insect/bee propagation (food security);
  • Damage to the ionosphere and unassessed effects on climate (environmental security);
  • Liability risks and failure to address viable safe, more secure, economically robust alternatives (economic security);
  • Entirely unassessed health risks from the satellite Radio Frequency Radiation (RFR) and the supporting base and earth stations.

The Controversy:The satellite companies and the FCC question and downplay these risk concerns. The FCC is taking the position that it has no legal obligation to assess any of these risks, individually or collectively, prior to making important licensing decisions. Moreover, the FCC asserts it is not obligated to consult with at least fifteen other federal agencies that have jurisdiction and critical missions related to the satellite program, including:

  • State Department; 
  • Department of Defense; 
  • Department of Agriculture;
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;
  • Commerce Department;
  • NASA;
  • Department of the Interior; 
  • Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency; 
  • Environmental Protection Agency; 
  • Food and Drug Administration, to name a few. 

The satellite companies have not proffered proof of insurance covering any of the above risks, nor any contractual obligation to indemnify the U.S. or other nations injured by actions licensed by the FCC, maintaining that insurance and indemnification for harms are unnecessary. The FCC does not appear to have discussed any of the above risks with other governments, especially as the agency by its actions is abrogating obligations under international treaties that have been signed and ratified by the United States. No critical assessment of the risks and costs of the satellite program and the benefits of alternatives appears to have been taken.
The intention of the webinar is to provide a forum to explore the critical questions under international and national law(s) in an open, fair, and balanced way, reflecting the different perspectives at play. A focus of the program will be on the legal areas challenged in a Petition for Rulemaking to the FCC, which raises frontier questions in federal, international, and transnational law and legal practice. A deep question throughout the program is the unaddressed ethical issues of allowing private enterprise to convert, for commercial gain, the Heavens which all of humanity since before the dawn of written history has regarded as sacred public trust and the common human heritage.

Cost: $110
Speakers: Raymond Broomhall, Sue Grey, Julian Gresser, Jessica Learmond-Criqui, and James S. Turner
Moderator: Melissa Allain

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