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Stealth Start-Up Launches Rogue Satellites Without FCC Permission

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Satellite manufacturer and electronics company Swarm Technology is under the scanner. The Federal Communications Commission slams the company for launching four prototype satellites without its permission and authorization.

The FCC has the responsibility to regulate commercial satellites, including minimization of the risk of accidents in space.

Unauthorized Launch Of Prototype Satellites

Swarm Technology, which was founded by former Apple and Google engineers Benjamin Longmier and Sara Spangelo in 2016, launched its prototype satellites earlier this year in January. The SpaceBee satellites were launched on the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket built by India and deployed by the Indian Space Research Organization.

The FCC had, however, snubbed the company's application and dismissed it a month prior to the launch. It also confirmed that it has revoked the company's authorization to launch the next set of four satellites, which were supposed to be deployed from a Rocket Lab mission in April.

"The International Bureau requested that the grant be set aside in order to permit assessment of the impact of the applicant's apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites, and related statements and representations, on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee," FCC said in the letter revoking the authorization.

Unauthorized Launch Raises Concern

Anthony Serafini, chief of the Experimental Licensing Branch of FCC, raised concern to Swarm that it would be tough to keep track of the miniaturized satellites in orbit due to their tiny size. Each of the prototypes measures about a home internet router's size.

"The applicant proposes to deploy and operate 4 spacecraft that are smaller than 10 cm in one of their three dimensions," FCC stated in their dismissal application. "These spacecraft are therefore below the size threshold at which detection by the Space Surveillance Network (SSN) can be considered routine."

"Even at that size, you're talking about a substantial energy transfer should they hit something," said Marcus Holzinger, an aerospace professor, from the Georgia Institute of TechnologyHolzinger. "In most cases it would be an explosive break-up, where all the pieces fly away from each other very quickly."

Swarm reportedly tried to make the prototypes easier to track by trying both experimental GPS locators and radar reflectors. However, the chief was concerned about both methods and dismissed the application put in by Swarm.

The FCC now fears that the four SpaceBees that are orbiting the planet pose an unacceptable collision threat for other spacecraft.

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