Darren Soto bill would cut red tape for rocket companies to get radio frequencies


For every space launch, thousands of things must be in place and go right, and that includes seemingly simple — but in fact complicated — things like access to the right secure radio frequencies.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, announced a bill to reserve certain bandwidths for commercial space companies to communicate with rockets as they go up, and with space vehicles as they come back down. The bill also instructs the federal bureaucracy to streamline approval processes for rocket companies to obtain temporary licenses for those frequencies.

Soto’s HR 8288, the “Leveraging American Understanding of Next-Generation Challenges Exploring Space (LAUNCHES) Act” drew applause from the space industry.

The bill, if enacted, is expected to significantly cut the number of approvals and time needed for a commercial space company to obtain Federal Communication Commission (FCC) licenses for secured launch or vehicle landing frequencies.

The need has grown as the space industry has expanded to now launching several rockets a month, just from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. More expansion is expected.

“As the industry takes off, we need to ensure our regulatory system is capable of supporting this rapid growth, and the LAUNCHES Act provides important guidance to modernize the launch spectrum licensing process,” said Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, in a news release issued by Soto’s Office.

To obtain licenses for launch and landing frequencies, a commercial rocket company still must go through an arduous process for its first mission. The process would be streamlined for subsequent launches, under the bill.

“This legislation modernizes federal launch spectrum licensing regulations, reduces unnecessary red tape in the licensing process, and encourages the further growth and competitiveness of the U.S. commercial space industry while protecting the government and federal spectrum users,” said Karina Drees, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

A 2018 presidential directive advised that the FCC needed to adapt the licensing approval process to the demands of the rapidly growing commercial space industry.

Soto first introduced the bill in the last session to meet that directive. Yet the agency was not yet ready. That bill stalled. Now the agency is considered to be in a better position to implement the changes.

“Space exploration has long been an integral part of our national goal to advance humanity, science, and innovation. However, the extent to which regulations and restrictions have been imposed on the rocket launching process only delays those who seek to make progress on this frontier, Soto said in the release.

“The LAUNCHES Act is critical in enabling future developments and maintaining global competitiveness in the space sector,” he continued. “Curiosity is a part of the American spirit, and it is past time we modernize the launch process in a way that’s beneficial to both the federal government and private companies.”

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