Building off of this previous question, is there a more detailed summary anywhere of the process that a commercial satellite would have to go through to obtain a GEO slot?

The documentation I have found has only clarified that the International Telecommunications Union allocates orbital slots to countries. That still leaves a lot of room for interpretation on the national level.

It could work a few different ways:

National government requests from ITU on an "as needed basis"

  1. Company requests GEO slot from national government.
  2. National government requests slot from ITU
  3. ITU grants slot to national government
  4. National government grants slot to company

National government maintains a bank of GEO slots to draw from

  1. National government requests multiple GEO slots from ITU for general use over some period of time
  2. Company requests GEO slot from national government
  3. National government grants slot to company

Or even:

Company requests GEO slot with permission of national government

  1. Company gets permission or approval from national government to request a slot
  2. Company requests GEO slot directly from ITU
  3. ITU grants slot to national government with the understanding that it is for company
  4. National government grants slot to company

Are any of these right? Or is there another process that commercial satellites need to go through to get a GEO slot from the ITU?

  • $\begingroup$ Potentially more information in this question $\endgroup$ – Mark Omo Nov 13 '17 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ Also how do they deal with uncooperative national governments? $\endgroup$ – ikrase Mar 2 at 4:24

The necessity for assigning GEO slots is mostly driven by two factors: 1) the need to prevent signal interference resulting in a physical distance of about 800 - 1600 miles between satellites in GEO and 2) the geographic coverage of each satellite associated with its orbit drives the demand for certain GEO slots. This results in an irregular density of GEO satellite orbital distributions. For example, a highly competitive slot would be one which could see much of the South East Asia or alternatively the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as a part of the United Nations, however, only enforces GEO placement as it involves signal interference between satellites. They do not consider the orbital placement of satellites. Furthermore, since GEO slots overlap across many nations it is not entirely feasible for a nation to assign all the slots which cover its geographic area. For instance, the United States Federal Aviation Administration monitors and regulates launch and reentry activities within the United States as it pertains to the health and safety of people on the ground. However, it does not formally assign slots for a satellite in GEO. It is important to note that international disputes could arise if a nation state or a foreign company placed a “malicious” satellite in GEO above another nation.

Some level of self-selection must occur since it is currently very expensive to launch and operate a GEO satellite. It is financially disadvantageous for a commercial or national entity to launch to an orbital slot where signal interference would cause it interfere with another satellite hindering its operational use or alternatively to a slot where orbital drift could possibly result in a collision with another satellite.

Thus, a company that wants a GEO satellite currently only needs to petition the ITU and to indicate to them that their satellite does not interfere with the signals of other satellites. It must launch the satellite in accordance with national launch regulations. The ambiguity of this answer goes to illustrate the need for more compressive international agreements for the assignment of satellite placements in Earth orbit. This is particularly true as the access to space gets cheaper and more entities wish to launch to GEO orbits.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You seem to be very well-informed on the topic. May I ask how you came by all this information? $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Nov 7 '17 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ Partially from a course on commercial spaceflight operations and telecommunications in graduate school. The other parts are from my own research on the subject. $\endgroup$ – user18817 Nov 7 '17 at 17:03
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Is there any chance you could link to or cite the sources of your research? It would strengthen your answer. Also, I believe you can cite the course you took as well. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Nov 7 '17 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ Sure. Will do that. $\endgroup$ – user18817 Nov 7 '17 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ Is there a site in the ITU website to start the process? Or does one have to go to Switzerland to get started in person? $\endgroup$ – fonsi May 3 '19 at 2:13

The most recent update of the ITU Radio Regulations is available for download in six languages from https://www.itu.int/en/myitu/Publications/2020/09/02/14/23/Radio-Regulations-2020 . My favorite part is Volume IV, ITU-R Recommendations incorporated by reference, which includes things I personally find more useful, such as ITU-R P.526-15, "Propagation by diffraction", and ITU-R P.838-3, "Specific attenuation model for rain for use in prediction methods".

The regulations are now so long and complicated that one of the links on that page is to a piece of software with the sole purpose "to electronically query and analyze the Table of Frequency Allocations and its associated footnotes". The regulations themselves are free to download, but the search tool costs 300 Swiss francs (and a paper copy of the regs will set you back another 442 CHF).

There is now an online form to submit satellite network filings at https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-R/space/e-submission/Pages/default.aspx , but there are restrictions on who can get an account, and it looks to me like they expect would-be satellite operators to go through whatever procedure their home country's space agency has created. As a random example of the things that might involve, here is a link to a presentation made by the telecommunications authority of Nepal to describe its situation to the rest of the ITU Radiocommunication section.

There is an interesting and well-sourced article from 2015 called "Paper satellites" and the free use of outer space, available from the web site of the NYU law school.


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