PSLV-C40 carrying the Cartosat-2 series lifting off on January 12

Antrix advises customers to 'cross check' before launch

Four tiny experimental U.S. satellites that shot to space on an Indian PSLV rocket on January 12 seem to have suddenly got “high visibility” and become the talk of global space circles.

Their regulator, the FCC or the Federal Communications Commission, had in last December reportedly refused to authorise their space ride.

The four SwarmBEEs were put up by the California-based start-up Swarm Technologies to show its technology for a space-based Internet-of-Things communications network. Or two-way satellite communication and relay, as ISRO described ahead of the launch.

Small Size

Now the satellites measuring 10 cm x 10 cm x 2.5 cm centimetres are dubbed the first rogues from Earth. And as objects that cannot be easily tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network because of their small size. The FCC fears that they may pose hazards to other satellites in space.

On Tuesday, Antrix clarified that a customer satellite’s getting the licence from its government was not its lookout. However, it advised future customers to adhere to the requirements of their respective regulators.

The FCC mandates that artificially launched space objects must measure a minimum of 10 cm x10 cm x10 cm on all sides; the BEEs were wanting on one side and hence did not get the approval, according to a December 12, 2017 letter written by Anthony Serafini of the FCC’s Experimental Licensing Branch to Swarm chief Sara Spangelo.

Put On Hold

FCC has also put on hold its approval for launching the California-based Swarm’s next four satellites — this time through Rocket Lab, New Zealand.

The PSLV launch was signed by Antrix Corporation Ltd. and a U.S. intermediary company Spaceflight Industries, Seattle, which did so on behalf of Swarm. The BEEs 1, 2,3 and 4 (‘Basic Electronic Elements’ ) were part of the 28 customer satellites that were launched on the PSLV-C40 along with Cartosat-2 series Earth observation spacecraft and two small Indian satellites.

A statement issued by the Antrix Chairman and Managing Director said, “As per commercial launch services agreement of Antrix, the customer shall be responsible for obtaining all permits, authorisations and notices of non-opposition from all national and international authorities who have jurisdiction over the customer spacecraft mission. Since this is an internal matter of the U.S., Antrix has requested its U.S. clients to cross-check with the FCC for compliance of regulations before exporting future satellites to India.”

Biggest Customers

U.S. companies have turned out to be the biggest customers of the light-load lifting PSLV launcher — in particular for their small piggybacks or co-riders that go to space with a bigger primary satellite.

Of the 237 foreign satellites launched by the PSLV, more than half are from the U.S.