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  • Writer's pictureKiran Mohan Vazhapully

UH: Global Space Law and Policy Newsletter, Vol. 3 (3)

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Administrative Spectrum Allocation in Telecom Bill 2023: A Game Changer in India's Satellite Broadband Sector

The satellite broadband sector in India is poised for a significant leap forward, with major telecom players readying for commercial launches. This follows the Indian government's landmark decision to allocate spectrum administratively, per the new Telecommunications Bill, 2023. This administrative approach is expected to significantly reduce the time required to launch satellite broadband services, potentially accelerating the deployment of high-speed internet connectivity across India.

This legislative change is seen as a significant win for companies advocating for the administrative allocation of satellite spectrum, such as Bharti Airtel's Eutelsat OneWeb, Elon Musk's Starlink, and Amazon's Kuiper. (for more details, see “The Satellite Spectrum Standoff in India”) The focus on administrative allocation over auctions comes after the Supreme Court's 2012 ruling in the 2G case, which led to a series of spectrum auctions by the government. However, recognising that satellite spectrum is different from terrestrial spectrum used for mobile communications and has no national limits, the bill opts for administrative allocation, which is considered more suitable for satellite airwaves​.


Clarity in Law and Policy

The Bill, in conjunction with the Indian Space Policy 2023, offers a significant shift in India's approach to the telecommunications, IT, and space sectors. As noted by the Department of Space (DoS), this legislative framework provides much-needed clarity on the roles of the government and stakeholders. This clarity is a vital step towards attracting new players to these flourishing sectors, particularly in areas like satellite communications and space exploration.

It elucidates the assignment of spectrum by detailing in its 'First Schedule' the areas and activities for which the allocation is made through a non-auction, administrative process. Specifically, Clause 4 (4) of the Bill states, "The Central government shall assign spectrum for telecommunication through auction, except for entries listed in the First Schedule for which assignment shall be done by administrative process.” This Schedule encompasses critical areas such as space research and application, launch-vehicle operations, ground station operations for satellite control, and most satellite communication services and user segments.



This approach of administrative allocation of spectrum for such activities is expected to draw new entrants to space-based services. One of the key benefits is the certainty of timely availability of space spectrum through administrative assignment. This certainty provides satellite operators the freedom to plan their satellite deployments effectively, ensuring optimal usage soon after launch. It also facilitates the provision of capacity to multiple users and service providers, enhancing the efficiency and reach of satellite communication services.

Furthermore, the flexibility afforded by administrative spectrum allocation enables satellite operators to serve customers outside India using the same platform, significantly broadening their market scope. The use of space spectrum, utilized via satellites in both geostationary and non-geostationary orbits, is critical in global communication networks. The move to allocate spectrum through the administrative route effectively resolves contradictions regarding the right to space spectrum, which is shared internationally.


Major Players

The key players in this sector are Bharti Group-backed OneWeb, Reliance's Jio Satellite Communications, and Elon Musk's Starlink. These companies, having secured global mobile personal communication by satellite (GMPCS) licences, are gearing up to establish their presence in the Indian market.

OneWeb, a joint venture of Eutelsat Communications and Bharti Enterprises, is preparing for live demonstrations and is nearing the completion of its earth stations in Gujarat. With a network of 630 lower-earth orbit satellites, OneWeb is set to offer its services through a partnership with Hughes Communications India Pvt. Ltd.

Similarly, Jio Satellite Communications, in collaboration with its joint venture partner SES, is advancing its satellite technology to provide gigabit, fibre-like services from space. Their earth station in Andhra Pradesh is operational, and pilot projects are underway across multiple locations.

Starlink, Elon Musk's venture, is also in the race, pending regulatory approvals from the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe).

This competition in the satellite broadband segment is significant for India's digital landscape, offering diverse and high-speed connectivity options. It also represents a major step in India's satellite telecom policy, highlighting the government's commitment to fostering a competitive and innovative space sector.



World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23): A Leap Forward in Global Radio Spectrum Management

The World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) concluded in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In WRC-23, 151 Member States of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) agreed to significant revisions to the global treaty governing the use of the radio frequency spectrum. These revisions address both terrestrial and space-based radio frequencies, aiming to bolster technological innovation, global connectivity, and equitable access to space-based resources.


Enhancing Safety and Connectivity


Under the leadership of ITU Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the WRC-23 has laid the groundwork for a more connected and inclusive digital future. Key regulatory achievements focus on spectrum allocation for space, scientific, and terrestrial radio services, aiming to enhance safety on land, sea, and air.


Spectrum Allocation for IMT and HIBS


A crucial decision at the WRC-23 was the identification of new spectrum for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT), including the 3,300-3,400 MHz, 3,600-3,800 MHz, 4,800-4,990 MHz, and 6,425-7,125 MHz frequency bands. This allocation is vital for the expansion of broadband connectivity and the development of advanced mobile services like 4G, 5G, and future 6G technologies.


The conference also identified the 2 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands for High-Altitude Platform Stations (HIBS) as IMT base stations, providing a novel platform for mobile broadband in remote and rural areas, and maintaining connectivity during disasters.


Safeguarding Essential Services


New provisions have been included to protect mobile service stations in international airspace and waters from interference from stations within national territories. This move is crucial for ensuring uninterrupted communication for ships and aircraft.


Advancements in Global Maritime and Aeronautical Services


The WRC-23 has taken steps to modernize the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) through the implementation of e-navigation systems. Additionally, the BeiDou Satellite Messaging Service System has been provisionally recognized for GMDSS use, subject to certain conditions.


In the aviation sector, the conference allocated new frequencies to the aeronautical mobile satellite services and endorsed the use of additional bands for non-safety aeronautical applications, enabling the use of advanced digital equipment on aircraft, helicopters, and drones.


Preparing for Future Challenges


Looking ahead, WRC-23 approved the agenda for the next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-27) and set provisional items for WRC-31. The conference's resolutions and ITU-R Recommendations reflect a forward-thinking approach, addressing future needs such as communication on the lunar surface, the operation of earth stations on unmanned aircraft, and the development of low-data-rate non-geostationary mobile-satellite systems.


Inclusive Participation and Global Cooperation


The WRC-23 saw active participation from over 3,900 delegates from 163 Member States, including 88 ministerial-level participants. Notably, female participation increased to 22%, reflecting a more inclusive approach in global telecommunication discussions.



The Spectrum Battle: The EPFD Debate at WRC-23

The World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) in Dubai became the battleground for a crucial decision affecting the future of satellite communications. The focus was on the review of Equivalent Power Flux Density (EPFD) limits, a rule dictating how powerful non-geostationary (NGSO) satellite signals should be to avoid interfering with geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites. This issue has divided the space industry, pitting NGSO operators like SpaceX and Amazon against GEO operators such as Viasat and SES.


The Compromise on EPFD Limits

After intense negotiations, a compromise was reached: technical studies to review EPFD limits would be allowed, but no regulatory action would result from these studies until at least 2031. This agreement provides a temporary respite but leaves open the possibility of future regulatory changes. Katherine Gizinski, CEO of River Advisers, highlighted that this compromise does not distinctly favor either party.


NGSO Operators: Pushing for Change

NGSO operators, including SpaceX and Amazon, argue that the current EPFD rules, established over a decade ago, are outdated. They contend that these rules unduly constrain their burgeoning satellite constellations, limiting their potential for providing global broadband coverage. The Alliance for Satellite Broadband, led by Amazon, believes that the results of the studies to be presented at WRC-27 could open pathways for revising EPFD limits.


GEO Operators: Defending the Status Quo

In contrast, GEO operators like Viasat and SES warn that relaxing EPFD limits could disrupt the stable regulatory environment that has allowed the space industry to thrive. They assert that any changes could lead to increased interference and disrupt their satellite services. Viasat and Intelsat emphasize the need for protective measures against potential NGSO interference.


The Future of Satellite Communications

Despite the compromise, the debate over EPFD limits is far from settled. NGSO operators see an opportunity at WRC-27 to advocate for regulatory changes, while GEO operators remain steadfast in protecting their interests. This ongoing debate reflects the evolving nature of satellite communications and the need for a regulatory framework that balances innovation with the protection of existing services.


WRC-23's decision on EPFD limits signifies a crucial moment in satellite communications, highlighting the challenges of regulating a rapidly evolving industry. As satellite technology advances and the number of players in the field increases, finding a middle ground that accommodates the interests of both NGSO and GEO operators will be key to ensuring a stable and progressive future for global satellite services.


White House Unveils Framework for Commercial Space Oversight

In a landmark initiative, the White House has released a comprehensive policy framework to regulate and oversee novel commercial space activities. This move, part of a broader legislative proposal, seeks to distribute responsibilities between the Department of Commerce and the Department of Transportation. The framework, detailed in the "Novel Space Activities Framework 2023," is designed to streamline the burgeoning private sector in space exploration, ensuring safety, security, and innovation. It is envisaged to accompany the “legislative proposal”, released last month, that would give the two departments the authority to authorize and oversee activities not currently licensed by other agencies.

The crux of this framework is the formation of an interagency steering group, jointly led by the Secretaries of Commerce and Transportation, to coordinate strategies for emerging private space capabilities. This group's mandate includes developing best practices and standards, crucial for shaping the future space regulatory environment.


Key elements of this framework include minimizing industry burdens, updating the Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices, and establishing a centralized database of non-governmental space operations. This approach reflects a balance between fostering private sector growth and maintaining stringent safety and security standards.


The framework arrives amidst debates over space regulation, with the House Science Committee proposing alternative legislation. The White House's proposal has been met with mixed reactions, highlighting the complexities and evolving nature of space exploration and commercialization.

Back to the Moon

Artemis & ILRS: New Members

Egypt recently joined China's International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project, focusing on a moon base by 2035. This collaboration extends to lunar station design, space missions, and the development of space systems. On the other hand,

Angola joined the U.S.-led Artemis Accords, becoming the third African nation (after Rwanda and Nigeria) to do so.

Mining the Cosmos: U.S. House Committee Sparks Debate on Space Resource Extraction

The prospect of space mining, extracting valuable minerals from the moon and asteroids, is no longer the stuff of science fiction, but it has ignited a fiery debate in the U.S. House of Representatives. A recent hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee delved into the viability of this nascent industry, which advocates argue is crucial for America's future economic and technological dominance.


A Partisan Divide Over Space and Earth


At the heart of the discussion is a clear partisan split. Proponents, largely from the Republican side, view space mining as a necessary step to secure resources that are becoming scarcer on Earth. They argue that with growing global demand for minerals like rare earth metals, the United States must act swiftly to ensure its independence from foreign sources, notably China.


Democrats, however, are skeptical. They question the current relevance of space mining and whether the committee itself should even be the one addressing it. They suggest that such discussions belong in the House Science Committee, which has previously legislated on space resource extraction rights through the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act.


The committee's Republican leadership insists on their jurisdiction over mining interests, a claim not explicitly covering resources beyond Earth. This jurisdictional dispute underscores the complexity of establishing legal frameworks for activities that extend beyond traditional national boundaries and into the vast expanse of space.


The Global Race for Space Resources


Witnesses like Eric Sundby of TerraSpace and Greg Autry of Arizona State University warn that delays in developing space resources could cede ground to China, which is rapidly advancing its space capabilities. They suggest that the United States must accelerate its efforts to assure continued access to extraterrestrial resources.


Other witnesses at the hearing, including Michelle Hanlon, executive director of the University of Mississippi’s Center for Air and Space Law, also emphasized the urgency of establishing a U.S. foothold in space resource extraction. Hanlon underscored the strategic importance of being first in space, suggesting that early movers might create exclusion zones on celestial bodies under the principle of “due regard” in the Outer Space Treaty, effectively reserving resources within those zones.


Balancing Exploration with Caution


While the potential for space mining is vast, some urge a more measured approach. Planetary scientist Moses Milazzo advocates for a committee inclusive of scientists, industry experts, cultural specialists, and ethicists to thoroughly assess the benefits and impacts before proceeding.


The debate also highlighted the private sector's role, with companies like AstroForge facing technical challenges in their asteroid mining endeavours. AstroForge's recent difficulties with its Brokkr-1 spacecraft illustrate the technical and financial hurdles that must be overcome to make space mining feasible.


Despite the heated debate, there is a common understanding that space mining will play a role in the future. The key is finding a bipartisan path forward that fosters technological innovation while considering the economic, legal, and ethical implications of extracting resources from celestial bodies.



The Indian Air Force's Transition to the Indian Air and Space Force

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to undergo a significant transformation, expanding its domain from the skies to the stars. In a historic move, the IAF is propelling itself towards renaming as the Indian Air and Space Force (IASF), signalling India's commitment to becoming a credible aerospace power.


The decision to rebrand the IAF to IASF is a part of India's broader strategy to enhance its capabilities in the "air and space continuum." This move is anchored in a new doctrine emphasizing the effective exploitation of both air and space domains. The IAF's "Space Vision 2047" underlines this shift, aiming to transition from a potent air power to a formidable aerospace force over the next few decades.


Collaboration and Technology Development

Central to this transformation is the IAF's collaboration with key national space agencies and the private sector. The partnership with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-Space) is set to bolster India's space-related capabilities. Efforts are being directed towards developing advanced technologies in positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), space weather prediction, and space traffic management.


Looking ahead, the IAF plans to launch over 100 military satellites, in collaboration with the private sector, aimed at enhancing India's defense capabilities. The tri-service Defence Space Agency, established in 2019, is expected to evolve into a full-fledged Space Command, reflecting the growing importance of space in national security. The IAF is also incorporating space into its training modules for officers and airmen. This includes exercises designed for space-related contingencies, emphasizing the need for a seamless transition from air to space operations. This initiative builds on the success of 'Mission Shakti', where DRDO demonstrated India's anti-satellite (A-Sat) capabilities by destroying a satellite in low earth orbit.

The Global Context: Responding to International Developments

India's move towards an integrated air and space force is in response to similar developments globally. Countries like China, the US, the UK, Japan, France, and Russia are rapidly advancing their space capabilities, with dedicated space commands and units. India's transition to IASF is not just a strategic necessity but also a response to the evolving nature of warfare, where space is increasingly becoming the ultimate high-ground. As the IAF evolves into IASCCS (Integrated Air and Space Command and Control System), it underscores India's readiness to face the challenges of the future battlespace, where dominance in air and space will be key to national defense.


Criticism of the IAF's Proposed Renaming


The proposed renaming of the IAF to the Indian Air and Space Force has faced criticism from various quarters. Some veterans and defense analysts view this move as unnecessary and excessive, arguing that the IAF already fulfills aerospace roles. Critics fear that the name change, inspired by a remark by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, might incur high costs without adding substantial value to the IAF's operational capabilities. They suggest that such a rebranding exercise could be costly and is more of a symbolic gesture than a practical enhancement of India's space capabilities. For more details on the criticisms and concerns raised, you can read this article on The Wire.

NASA Releases Space Security Best Practices Guide

NASA has released the first iteration of its Space Security Best Practices Guide. This guide aims to enhance cybersecurity for both public and private space missions. It's designed as a resource for improving security and reliability of missions and is useful for international partners, industry, and others in space exploration and development. The guide focuses on adapting to new challenges and implementing safety and security measures in increasingly integrated and interconnected space systems. NASA's initiative aligns with Space Policy Directive 5 and emphasizes their commitment to developing clear cybersecurity principles for space systems. For more details, please visit the NASA website.

Space Sustainability

UNOOSA Space Bridge: Pioneering Dialogue for Space Sustainability

In an important move to encourage global dialogue and action in space sustainability, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has launched the "UNOOSA Space Bridge." Announced by UNOOSA Director Aarti Holla-Maini at the World Space Forum in Vienna, this initiative aims to unite a diverse range of stakeholders, from heads of space agencies to civil society, in addressing key space-related challenges.

Facilitating Targeted Exchanges for Impactful Solutions


The UNOOSA Space Bridge is designed to promote international expertise exchange and dismantle existing silos in the space sector. It seeks to empower policymakers with actionable solutions that advance space sustainability and effectively leverage space technology for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The platform will host structured dialogues, focusing on tangible solutions that align with UNOOSA's role as the custodian of space for the SDGs.


Bridging Gaps in Earth Observation and Communication


With Earth observation, navigation, and communication satellites playing crucial roles in addressing global issues like climate change and food security, there is a pressing need for enhanced collaboration. The UNOOSA Space Bridge will facilitate this by bringing together industry experts, space agencies, and policymakers to share experiences and address concerns, fostering a more integrated approach to global space activities. The Director emphasized that the Space Bridge initiative will bolster UNOOSA's capacity-building activities, ensuring that space solutions can be effectively scaled up to drive transformational change, resilience, and global sustainability.


In the coming months, UNOOSA will initiate a consultation process to pinpoint specific topics for discussion in 2024, paving the way for a more interconnected and sustainable approach to space exploration and utilization.


EU Council Sets Course for Space Traffic Management

The European Council has taken a significant step forward by adopting comprehensive conclusions on 'Space Traffic Management: state of play'. This directive comes at a critical moment when the heavens above are becoming increasingly crowded, not with stars, but with satellites and debris.


A Universal Challenge


Space, once the playground of celestial bodies and the imagination, has now become an essential part of everyday life. Our reliance on technology in orbit—whether for watching television, tracking climate change, or even determining the best time to sow seeds—demands a strategic approach to managing the traffic zipping around our planet.


The conclusions underscore the need to consider both civilian and military aspects of space traffic. The European Commission, along with the European External Action Service and the European Defence Agency, are urged to collaborate with member states to ensure that defense and security are not sidelined in the EU's civil space endeavours.


Tackling Space Debris

The burgeoning challenge of STM, accentuated by the steady increase in satellite launches and space debris, poses a stark risk to the security and resilience of EU and member states' space assets. With more than 50,000 additional satellites anticipated to be sent into orbit over the next decade, the potential for collisions in space is a looming threat that demands immediate action.


With the EU's space surveillance and tracking (SST) system as a cornerstone, the Council is calling for the bolstering of services aimed at mitigating space debris—a growing concern for operational safety in space.


The Council recognizes space traffic management as pivotal to the EU's political agenda, intertwining with green and digital transitions, technological independence, and the secure and sustainable use of space. This orchestration is expected to reinforce the global competitiveness of the EU’s space industry.


A Collaborative Blueprint


The Council's conclusions are a response to a communication presented by the Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, mapping out an EU approach to the global challenge of space traffic management. This approach is set to culminate in a regulatory framework proposal in 2024.


While the Council's conclusions are not legally binding, they represent a strategic and political commitment across the EU member states. The 'Competitiveness' Configuration of the Council, which addresses EU internal market, industry, research and innovation, and space, has provided top-level guidance for the European Commission or agency programmes.



Andrew Williams’ post

U.S. Ramps Up Preparedness for Space Weather Challenges

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is taking significant strides to enhance the United States' preparedness for extreme space weather events. Dr. Ezinne Uzo-Okoro, Assistant Director for Space Policy at OSTP, highlights the critical importance of observing and forecasting space weather to safeguard national security and civilian technologies.


Extreme space weather events, caused by the sun's expulsion of plasma and magnetic fields, can have profound impacts on Earth. These phenomena can disrupt essential services including electric power, communications, water supply, health care, satellite operations, and transportation systems. With the next solar maximum anticipated within the next two years, the urgency to bolster space weather resilience has intensified. To counter these challenges, OSTP has released an Implementation Plan of the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan. This comprehensive plan outlines three core policy objectives, focusing on enhancing protection against space weather effects, developing accurate forecasting, and establishing robust response and recovery procedures.


Key Objectives of the Plan:


1. Enhancing Protection: The plan aims to safeguard national security, homeland security, and commercial assets and operations from space weather impacts.


2. Accurate and Timely Information: A major goal is to improve the characterization and forecasting of space weather events, ensuring timely dissemination of information.


3. Response and Recovery Plans: Establishing effective plans and procedures to respond and recover from space weather incidents is a critical aspect of the strategy.


The OSTP's plan also emphasizes the importance of global space traffic coordination and protecting national security interests. This initiative is not a solitary effort; it involves coordinated action across the federal government, the Space Weather Advisory Group, academia, the private sector, and international partners.


The United States, committed to improving national preparedness for space weather events, is setting a global precedent for proactive and collaborative approaches to tackle the challenges posed by space weather. This comprehensive strategy aims to make the nation space-weather-ready, securing lives, technologies, and infrastructures against the unpredictable nature of space weather phenomena.


Read the Plan here.


Other News

Tanzania's Space Ambitions: Securing an Orbital Slot for Satellite Launch

Tanzania has marked a significant milestone in its space program by securing an orbital slot for its first satellite launch. This achievement places Tanzania on the global space exploration map, indicating its commitment to technological advancement and digital transformation. The secured slot at 16 degrees west longitude opens up new possibilities for the nation in space exploration and satellite communication. The Tanzanian government's efforts reflect a broader trend among African nations to expand their presence in space and leverage satellite technology for various applications. Countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Algeria have been active in satellite technology, contributing to the continent's growing presence in space.


Iran Launches Capsule with Animals to Orbit

In a landmark move signaling Iran's intensified focus on its space programme, the country successfully launched a capsule carrying animals into space, marking a significant step towards its goal of human space missions. This groundbreaking event, confirmed by Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour, featured the indigenous Salman rocket propelling a 500kg biological capsule, a record in Iran's space history, to an altitude of 130km.

Iran's journey in space exploration, particularly in sending animals into orbit, dates back to the mid-2000s, with notable achievements, including the successful launch of two monkeys in 2013. Under President Ebrahim Raisi's administration, Iran has revitalised its space ambitions, with critics highlighting a shift from former President Hassan Rouhani's West-engaging policies.

This advancement comes amidst the backdrop of the stalled 2015 nuclear deal and escalating tensions with the West, particularly the United States, over Iran's missile and space activities. The US and its allies have expressed concerns over these launches, fearing their potential dual-use capabilities, especially in developing long-range ballistic missiles.

Recent activities have included the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) successful deployment of an imaging satellite and collaborations with Russia, further stirring international apprehension. This trajectory sets the stage for an intensified space race, not just in the Middle East but globally, as exemplified by recent launches by South Korea and North Korea, each drawing scrutiny and sparking debates over international standards and double standards in space exploration.


Kiran is a senior lawyer working for an intergovernmental organisation based in New Delhi. He was an Erin J.C. Arsenault Graduate Fellow at the Institute of Air and Space Law, McGill University, where he specialised in space law. He is also a visiting professor at National Law School, Bangalore. He is the founder of the Unified Heavens newsletter on global space law and policy. 



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