The DC Circuit investigated on Friday whether the Federal Communications Commission approved changes to SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellite constellation, with a panel of three judges trying to investigate whether the agency correctly concluded that an environmental assessment was unnecessary and whether it was properly dependent on future international compliance. . certification.
During oral argument, Judge Justin Walker questioned whether the FCC had any obligation to conduct a risk assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act when he suggested that many of the perceived effects of the Constellation would not directly harm humans on Earth. They specifically challenged the arguments of Dish Network, Balance Group and Viasat Inc. that the FCC was required to review the impact of space debris, interference with satellite television services, and reduced visibility for astronomers, they say. SpaceX’s plans will be born.
“I am aware that the Commission has scolded the question of whether NEPA also covers some of these alleged environmental damages, but in some ways it appears to be in favor of rejecting your petition on the grounds of merit. This is the most statutory reason for this, “Judge Walker told William MJ, who argued on behalf of Viasat and the Balance Group. “The idea that recycling waste that is in space and stays in space is part of the human environment, I find hard to sell.”
Jay responded that SpaceX’s massive constellation “would undeniably have an impact on the human environment,” including side effects such as light pollution, which he claimed fell “entirely within NEPA.”
What FCC says to SpaceX?
SpaceX originally received the FCC’s nod to service its Starlink fleet in 2018, becoming the fourth company to be allowed to provide broadband services using thousands of new low-altitude satellites orbiting the Earth in non-geostationary orbits. Let’s Go The trial, launched in June by Dish, Viasat and the Balance Group, claimed that the FCC had erroneously allowed SpaceX to operate a modified satellite constellation that would violate the rules for using the 12 GHz band.
The FCC defended its actions by arguing that the Commission has broad authority to change licenses for satellite communications services if these measures would promote the public interest. According to the FCC, this allowed SpaceX’s satellites to confirm that they subsequently adhere to international power limits, allowing the company to stick to its “accelerated rollout program.”
The international compliance aspect became a key point during Friday’s session when Pantelis Michaelopoulos argued on behalf of the Dish Network that it was superfluous for the agency to require SpaceX to certify its technical compliance with the International Telecommunication Union prior to launch.
Instead, the FCC told SpaceX that it “may proceed at its own risk” while in the process of obtaining ITU approval, and that the ITU will later learn that it is required to change its operations. It’s possible. such as power level.
“The FCC puts all its trust in until a conclusion is reached on the very entity that has been regulated by the ITU for many years,” Michaelopoulos said. “SpaceX would actually have an incentive to do the wrong thing in all the years before the ITU discovery. It would have all the incentive to take advantage of these high-power operations, to operate at a higher power.”
Judge Robert Wilkins tried to downplay the potential for harm to Dish customers – and the consequences SpaceX could face – if the broadband provider violates technical standards before receiving an OK from the ITU. According to the FCC’s arguments, the agency cannot consider evidence outside the ITU’s finding that Dish has sought to present.
“That’s a very important point for me. I want to make sure I understand it correctly,” Judge Wilkins said. “When [the FCC] says ‘proceed at your own risk’, does that mean the agency will still not consider your evidence? It will only consider the ITU’s results?”
“Yes, your honor,” replied Michelopoulos. “That’s exactly the concern.”
Prateek A Shah, who argued for SpaceX, told the panel that the ITU certification for SpaceX may not be far off. While Dish claimed that certification could take years, Shah pointed out that SpaceX achieved its final certification within 13 months. If that pattern persists, he can get ITU’s signoff on his adjusted constellation within two months, he said.
FCC adviser James Carr acknowledged that the FCC could impose financial sanctions on SpaceX for possible future cases of interference from its satellites. But he also noted that it would depend on the “severity of the interference” and the extent to which SpaceX was aware of it.
Judges Robert Wilkins, Gregory Katsus and Justin R. Walker DC to sit on the panel. Circuit.
Pantelis Michaelopoulos of Steptoe & Johnson LLP argued on Dish’s behalf.
William M.J of Goodwin Proctor LLP argued on behalf of Viasat and Balance Group.
Pratik Arvind Shah of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP argued on behalf of SpaceX.
Rachel Proctor May and James Carr argued on behalf of the FCC.
Main thing Viasat Inc. v. U.S. to Columbia Circuit FCC in the District Court of Appeals, Case No. 21-1123.