Part Two of Three Parts (Please read Part One first)
Swarm was fully aware of the size issue and they placed a GPS device in each satellite that would broadcast its location if its location was requested. They also covered each of the four small one inch by four inches faces with special new passive radar reflective material. Swarm claims that this material will make the radar profile of the satellites ten times bigger and, therefore, easier to detect.
The FCC was skeptical about the Swarm proposal. During last summer there was correspondence between the FCC and Swarm. In a letter sent by the FCC to Swarm, by Anthony Serafini, the chief of the FCC’s Experimental Licensing Branch. He pointed out that the radar reflector suggested by Swarm only worked in a particular narrow radar frequency band that is only a small part of the Space Surveillance Network of the U.S. He was also concerned that GPS data would only be transmitted if the satellite was functioning. So if the satellite failed because of a hardware or software malfunction, it would become just a small piece of space debris.
He wrote, “In the absence of tracking at the same level as available for [1U] objects… the ability of operational spacecraft to reliably assess the need for and plan effective collision avoidance maneuvers will be reduced or eliminated. Accordingly, we cannot conclude that a grant of this application is in the public interest.” Needless to say, the FCC rejected the application from Swarm.
In January, Swarm submitted a new application for launch of four new satellites with a standard 1 U CubeSat size. Swarm said in the application that they had signed agreements with two Fortune 100 companies for Swarm to conduct paid pilot programs. They said that fifteen additional companies in agriculture, shipping and other markets would be closely monitoring the experiment. The U.S. military is also considering the use of the Swarm technology for “tracking and geo-locating a large number of items on the ground and at sea.”
The new application from Swarm said that the new bigger satellites would be launched by Rocket Lab from New Zealand in April of 2018. The FCC approved the new application from Swarm in a few weeks.
Swarm just released details of its market trials in another FCC application. It asked for permission to install two more downlink ground stations and as many as five hundred uplink gateways around the U.S. in the next year. Swarm said that they had contacted over one hundred and twenty-five. Swarm has also received a new NSF grant to provide cheap connectivity for humanitarian organizations. They also announced a partnership with NASA’s Ames Research Center. Everything seemed to be on track for the startup.
However, everything changed last Wednesday when Serafini sent a new letter to Swarm. In the letter, he revoked the application approval for the April Rocket Lab launch. He said that the FCC believes that Swarm went ahead and launched its original small satellites in spite of the fact that the FCC had explicitly forbidden it to do so.
Please read Part Three