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  • Writer's pictureKiran Mohan Vazhapully

Unified Heavens: Global Space Law and Policy Newsletter, Vol. 3 (1)

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

UK Space Agency Proposes New Liability Limits for Satellite Operators

UK Space Agency Satellite Operator Liability
All images created using DALL-E

The UK Space Agency has unveiled a new proposal aimed at revising the liability limits for satellite operators in the event of space incidents. This move comes as part of the government's commitment to the National Space Strategy and seeks to modernise the UK's approach to satellite operations.


Moving Away from One-Size-Fits-All


Historically, satellite operators in the UK have been subject to a flat-rate liability amount of €60 million. The new proposal suggests a shift towards a variable approach, with different liability amounts set for different missions. This change aims to better reflect the diverse range of satellite operations and their associated risks.


In a bid to promote space safety and sustainability, the UK Space Agency is also considering refunding licence fees for companies that adopt sustainable practices. This move underscores the importance of preserving space for current and future generations.


Space Sustainability: A Priority


The consultation also touches upon the broader theme of space sustainability. One of the key proposals includes the development of a space sustainability roadmap extending to 2050 and beyond. The government is actively supporting the Earth & Space Sustainability Initiative (ESSI), an industry-led initiative that aims to establish global standards for space sustainability.


Joanne Wheeler, Director of ESSI, emphasised the importance of space sustainability, stating that the benefits derived from space should not be compromised by neglecting the space environment.


The consultation will be available for 12 weeks, after which the government will respond. The recommendations will be implemented as soon as possible thereafter.


International Law


The Liability Convention, ratified by 98 UN Member States, currently governs space object liabilities. With the rise of private actors in the space industry, questions arise about the convention's adequacy in addressing the liability issues of these new players. The UK's initiative could set a precedent for other countries to develop their own tailored regulations.


The UK's move to revise its satellite operator liability limits reflects its commitment to fostering a thriving space industry while ensuring safety and sustainability. The outcome of the consultation could have significant implications for the future of satellite operations in the UK and inspire similar changes worldwide.


Note that the responses to the consultation are due by 7 December.





Reliance Jio Introduces JioSpaceFiber: A Leap Towards Satellite-Based Broadband in India

Jio Space Fiber Satellite Internet

In a groundbreaking move, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited unveiled JioSpaceFiber, India's pioneering satellite-based gigabit broadband service, at the India Mobile Congress 2023. This innovative service aims to bridge the digital divide by bringing high-speed internet to remote regions of the country that have previously remained unconnected.


A Partnership with SES


To make JioSpaceFiber a reality, Jio has collaborated with SES, a Luxembourg-based global satellite operator. Through this partnership, Jio has gained access to SES's advanced medium earth orbit (MEO) satellite technology, which is renowned for delivering gigabit, fiber-like services from space. This collaboration isn't new; the foundation was laid back in 2022 when Jio and SES announced a joint venture, Jio Space Technology Limited, to bring affordable satellite broadband to India.


To showcase the capabilities of JioSpaceFiber, Jio has successfully connected four remote locations in India: Gir in Gujarat, Korba in Chattisgarh, Nabarangpur in Odisha, and ONGC-Jorhat in Assam. Akash Ambani, chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited, emphasized the transformative potential of JioSpaceFiber, stating that it would enable "everyone, everywhere" to participate in the digital society with gigabit access to essential online services.


Beyond Traditional Broadband


Unlike traditional broadband services like JioFiber, which require fixed-line connections, JioSpaceFiber operates wirelessly, connecting directly to satellites. This means minimal on-ground infrastructure, making it easier to bring internet services to remote areas. JioSpaceFiber complements Jio's existing broadband services, including JioFiber and JioAirFiber, ensuring that consumers and businesses across India have access to reliable, fast, and low-latency internet and entertainment services.


A Competitive Landscape


While Jio has taken the lead with its satellite internet service, other global players are also eyeing the Indian market. SpaceX's Starlink and Amazon's Project Kuiper have shown interest, but regulatory approvals remain a hurdle. Jio, with its GMPCS license from the Department of Telecommunications, is well-positioned to lead the satellite broadband revolution in India.


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Dish Network Faces Historic Space Debris Fine from FCC

Space Debris Fine

In a groundbreaking move, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has slapped Dish Network with a penalty for non-compliance with its anti-space debris regulations. This unprecedented action by the FCC underscores the increasing concerns surrounding space debris and the importance of responsible satellite operations.


Historic Penalty for Space Debris Violation


The FCC has imposed a fine of $150,000 on Dish Network, marking the first instance where a company has been penalized for violating space debris mitigation rules. This decision highlights the FCC's commitment to ensuring that satellite operators adhere to regulations aimed at preserving the safety and sustainability of space operations.


The EchoStar-7 Satellite Controversy


Dish Network's EchoStar-7 satellite, which has been orbiting Earth for over two decades, is at the centre of this controversy. Launched into geostationary orbit approximately 22,000 miles above Earth in 2002, the satellite was supposed to be relocated to a designated "graveyard orbit" at the end of its operational life. However, in 2022, Dish Network discovered that the satellite was running low on propellant, preventing it from reaching its intended disposal location. As a result, the satellite was positioned only 76 miles above its operational orbit, missing its target by 178 km. Instead of moving the satellite to its designated safe zone, Dish Network placed it in a "disposal orbit", which poses potential risks of orbital debris.


FCC's Stance on Space Debris


The increasing amount of space debris, consisting of non-functional artificial objects orbiting Earth, has been a growing concern for the FCC. Such debris can hinder new satellites, posing challenges for their ability to start and complete missions. Recognizing the potential threats posed by space debris, the FCC introduced a rule in 2022. This rule mandates satellite operators to dispose of their satellites within five years of completing their missions, emphasizing the importance of timely and safe satellite disposal.


Implications for the Space Industry


The FCC's decision to fine Dish Network serves as a stark reminder to satellite operators about the critical importance of fulfilling their commitments and adhering to space debris mitigation plans. With the rapid growth of satellite operations and the space economy, ensuring the safe and responsible use of space has become paramount. This enforcement action by the FCC is expected to set a precedent, emphasizing that violations related to space debris will not be taken lightly.


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India's Ambitious Space Endeavours: PM Modi Sets New Milestones for ISRO

India Space Ambition

In a series of landmark announcements, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has outlined ambitious goals for India's space agency, ISRO, including the establishment of an Indian space station and landing an Indian astronaut on the Moon.


Indian Space Station by 2035


India aims to set up its very own space station, named 'Bharatiya Antariksha Station', by 2035. This initiative is a testament to the country's growing prowess in space technology and its aspirations to be a significant player in the global space community.


First Indian on the Moon by 2040


Furthering the nation's lunar exploration ambitions, PM Modi has set a target for ISRO to land the first Indian on the Moon by 2040. This follows India's recent achievements, including the successful landing near the lunar south pole.


Interplanetary Missions


The Prime Minister has also urged scientists to embark on missions beyond our Moon. These interplanetary missions include a Venus Orbiter Mission and a Mars Lander Mission, showcasing India's intent to explore our neighbouring planets.


Gaganyaan Mission: India's First Manned Spaceflight


The high-level meeting chaired by PM Modi primarily assessed the progress of the Gaganyaan Mission, India's first manned spaceflight program. The mission, scheduled for 2025, has undergone rigorous preparations, with around 20 major tests planned, including three uncrewed missions. The first demonstration flight of the Crew Escape System Test Vehicle is set for October 21, 2023.


Building on Past Successes


India's space achievements, such as the Chandrayaan-3 and Aditya L1 Missions, have set the stage for these ambitious goals. The country has already marked its presence on the Moon and initiated its first solar mission. The Aditya L1 mission, aimed at observing the Sun, has been successfully launched and is on its trajectory.


To realize these ambitious goals, the Department of Space will develop a comprehensive roadmap. This will encompass a series of Chandrayaan missions, the development of a Next Generation Launch Vehicle, the construction of a new launch pad, and the establishment of human-centric laboratories and technologies.


Private Sector and Budgetary Implications


While India is known for its cost-effective space missions, these ambitious projects will require significant investments. Experts believe that the private sector will play a crucial role in funding and technology development. The success of these missions will not only be a testament to India's technological prowess but also its ability to manage large-scale projects efficiently.


India's space ambitions are soaring to new heights. With a clear roadmap and the nation's commitment, the upcoming decades promise exciting advancements in space exploration for the country.


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ITU Releases Handbook on Small Satellites

ITU Small Satellites Handbook

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has unveiled its latest edition of the "Handbook on Small Satellites." This comprehensive guide aims to enhance the understanding and application of small satellite technologies globally.


Background


The handbook was crafted in response to Resolution ITU-R 68, which emphasizes the need to improve the dissemination of knowledge about the regulatory procedures applicable to small satellites, including nanosatellites and picosatellites.


Purpose and Content


The handbook's primary goal is to foster the effective development of small satellites and cater to the needs of the satellite industry. Small satellite technology is gaining traction due to its multi-mission capabilities, making it a pivotal tool for providing seamless services globally. This technology democratizes space access for nations regardless of their economic status and aids in achieving the UN sustainable development goals.


The handbook comprises nine chapters and two annexes that delve deep into the technology, regulatory aspects, and practices of small satellites:

  • Chapter 1: Introduction to small satellite systems and their classifications.

  • Chapter 2: Characteristics of space and ground segments of small satellite systems.

  • Chapter 3: ITU radio regulatory procedures related to small satellites.

  • Chapter 4: Services and radio-frequency spectrum suitable for small satellite operations.

  • Chapter 5: Overview of diverse missions achievable with small satellites.

  • Chapter 6: Importance of space object registration.

  • Chapter 7: Launch vehicle capabilities and considerations.

  • Chapter 8: Space debris mitigation guidelines.

  • Chapter 9: Examples of small satellite systems related to various missions.

The handbook is a product of international collaboration among experts in the small satellite field. Proposals for the handbook were invited from both ITU-R members and non-members to foster international cooperation and awareness. A dedicated webpage was also established to facilitate the submission of proposals and provide updates on the handbook's development.


Significance


The handbook stands as a testament to the dedication and expertise of those involved in its creation. It is expected to serve as a cornerstone for enhancing the understanding and utilization of small satellites, contributing significantly to the advancement of the global satellite industry.


For those interested in diving deeper into the world of small satellites, the ITU's "Handbook on Small Satellites" is a valuable resource, providing insights and practical tools to support countries in their endeavors to develop and advance their small satellite capabilities.


Catalogue of Indian Standards for Space Industry Unveiled

India Space Industry Standards

In a significant move towards bolstering India's space endeavours, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) has unveiled the "Catalogue of Indian Standards for Space Industry" on 14th September 2023.


Highlights:


1. Purpose and Significance: The catalogue aims to streamline processes and technologies within the Indian space industry, fostering innovation and strengthening international collaboration. It serves as a comprehensive collection of standards symbolizing India's commitment to excellence, innovation, and global collaboration in space technology.


2. Content Overview: The catalogue covers a spectrum of domains, including Space System Program Management strategies, Systems Engineering principles, Product Assurance Mechanisms, and more across all sectors of space endeavours like satellites, launch systems, and ground systems. By establishing a unified framework of guidelines and benchmarks, it ensures consistency in operations and aligns India's space activities with global best practices.


3. Impact: The adoption of these standards is expected to enhance the reliability and safety of space missions, drive cost reduction, and shorten development cycles. It will serve as an invaluable resource for space industry professionals, researchers, and policymakers, aiding them in decision-making, technology development, and policy formulation.


4. Standards Published: Some of the standards published in the catalogue include:

  • IS 18326: 2023 - Programme management for material, mechanical parts, and processes.

  • IS 18327 (Part 2): 2023 - Product assurance in space systems.

  • IS 18328 (Part 1): 2023 - Safety requirements for space systems.

  • IS 18329 (Part 1): 2023 - Management of electrical, electronic, and electromechanical parts.

  • IS 18330: 2023 - Definition of Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs).

  • IS 18331: 2023 - Requirements management for space projects.

  • And many more.


About the Author:


Kiran Mohan Vazhapully is the resident Space Policy Fellow for Trivium Think Tank's StraTechos website. He 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.



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