I was watching the live stream of the Iridium-5 launch and they mentioned that NOAA had restricted their ability to live stream the second stage and that SpaceX was working to remove this restriction.

Is there any information why this restriction was added?


Because beaming down images of the earth from space is restricted, and Companies and Universities require a Commercial Remote Sensing Licence (weirdly these are issued by NOAA) to do so. SpaceX has not received one for streaming second stage imagery. You can see the list of issued licenses here (a fun read).

This was confirmed in this tweet by Eric Berger:

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ I just have to wonder how this fits with Starman. After all, Starman broadcast for over 4 hours from Earth orbit, and they didn't seem to have a license... $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Mar 30 '18 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ If this theory is true, I'm guessing it's a matter of someone at NOAA realizing SpaceX promotional broadcasts could qualify as commercial use. In that case I'd blame Starman, actually. $\endgroup$ – Saiboogu Mar 30 '18 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ Looks like confirmation of the remote sensing license concerns: twitter.com/SciGuySpace/status/979748665479876609 $\endgroup$ – Saiboogu Mar 30 '18 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ Eric Berger is a reputable space journalist so I give him some benefit of the doubt and assume he spoke with an authoritative source. NOAA twitter account isn't necessarily an authoritative source, at least not when it comes to "we don't know" proclamations. PR types only know as much as they've been briefed on. $\endgroup$ – Saiboogu Mar 30 '18 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ Here's a longer Ars Technica article from Eric Berger about this: arstechnica.com/science/2018/03/… $\endgroup$ – Bob Jacobsen Mar 30 '18 at 17:56

It is unlawful for any person who is subject to the jurisdiction or control of the United States, directly or through any subsidiary or affiliate to operate a private remote sensing space system without possession of a valid license issued under the Act and the regulations.

"The Act" there refers to the National and Commercial Space Programs Act (NCSPA or Act), 51 U.S.C. § 60101, et seq, which you can find here.

NOAA page on how to get a license under that act, etc, is here. A recent Wired article covers it pretty well.

NOAA's governing regulations limit the scope of its regulation: "For purposes of the regulations in this part, a licensed system consists of a finite number of satellites and associated facilities". That "satellites" term separately has a general definition that rules out anything not in a "permanent" orbit, alternately a "stable orbit", i.e. a launch vehicle. What might be new is that the Falcon 2nd stage does achieve a "stable orbit" for Iridium insertion, hence the signal cutoff.

And now NOAA has issued a statement that says they did put a restriction in place, but doesn't say why.

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    $\begingroup$ The statement says that it is for national security. I guess that they don't want just anyone with millions of dollars to put up a spy satellite. Imagine Facebook making a spy satellite. $\endgroup$ – BillThePlatypus Mar 30 '18 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ @BillThePlatypus Agree that NOAA has the authority to restrict imagery "for national security purposes". NOAA specifically said that SpaceX was given restrictions on this flight. The question is what that "purpose" was here, for this launch. $\endgroup$ – Bob Jacobsen Mar 30 '18 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ So if you have an infinite number of satellites then you are exempt? $\endgroup$ – Matt Mar 31 '18 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Matt In various fields, it seems common to use "finite" when one actually means "non-zero". $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Mar 31 '18 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Matt That falls under a different regulation aimed at the prevention of black hole formation from the gravitational collapse of infinite satellites. ;) $\endgroup$ – reirab Apr 1 '18 at 5:14

There is a lot of curiosity on that, but not a lot of real information. Let me look at a list of possible issues:

  1. Restriction due to the payload- Not the case, Iridium is a commercial company, they want their launches to be known, and don't care.
  2. Restrictions due to the rocket- Wouldn't change at the end, and SpaceX will have broadcasted anyways
  3. Restriction of live video- This I believe is the issue. At the end of the mission, the rocket will be outside of the range of ground contact. For the East Coast launches, I think they use a barge to facilitate communication during the end of the mission, but my guess is NOAA restricts the use in the West Coast for some reason.
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    $\begingroup$ Could it be that Florida launches are over the ocean and broadcasts tend to have blue water backgrounds whereas a California launch with a polar orbit would partly be over US airspace, some of which is restricted? $\endgroup$ – Dan Sorensen Mar 30 '18 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ -1 I'm trying to understand how this is an actual answer to the OP's question, rather than just a comment. The question asks for the reason for the restriction If NOAA's reason involves barges, can you expand on that? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 30 '18 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ NOAA has since issued this statement which loosely supports my comment above and your point #3, "SpaceX applied and received a license from NOAA that included conditions... Conditions on Earth imaging to protect national security are common to all licenses for launches with on-orbit capabilities." source: noaa.gov/media-release/… $\endgroup$ – Dan Sorensen Mar 31 '18 at 3:22
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    $\begingroup$ @DanSorensen can you help me understand the connection between NOAA and the "barge" and now national security? I'm completely missing something here. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 31 '18 at 6:36
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    $\begingroup$ Oops, i was not referring to the barge part of point 3. Both my comments and my link are about "NOAA restricts the use of the West coast for some reason". But I was suggesting the nearby presence of restricted airspace on the west coast as the reason. $\endgroup$ – Dan Sorensen Mar 31 '18 at 13:45

protected by Community Mar 30 '18 at 17:34

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