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In the United States access to space is restricted by the FCC / FAA, which licenses private, commercial, and government entities for potential launches into space.

Is there any international oversight on space launches? For instance, if a company were to build a launch platform out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, would there be any organization with authority to monitor or restrict that activity?

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't know the full answer, but the UN has some conventions and there is some agreement that if a US citizen launches a payload and it re-enters and kills 20 people in Zambia the US citizen can be held liable. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Jul 16 '13 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ Is it the FCC or the FAA? $\endgroup$
    – mjcopple
    Jul 16 '13 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ @mjcopple: Both, actually. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Jul 16 '13 at 22:12
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First of all, let's get a few things straight.

  1. The FCC has a partial agreement for space launches, specifically, they are allowed to regulate the use of frequencies, etc.
  2. The FAA is allowed to regulate the spacecraft, launch site, and the timing of the launch, and similar such things. But their power pretty much stops at the atmosphere.

In essence, as virtually every satellite has to talk to someone at some point in time. As a result, the FCC is allowed to regulate satellites and other similar machines pretty well. They have done so, by doing things like ensuring that the spacecraft can de-orbit prior to allowing it an FCC license, for instance.

As far as inter-government organizations, there are quite a few that regulate how things work. The main one is the International Telecommunication Union, which is the equivalent to the FCC from the United Nations. Specifically, they have a Space Services Department, which

The Department handles capture, processing and publication of data and carries out examination of frequency assignment notices submitted by administrations for inclusion in the formal coordination procedures or recording in the Master International Frequency Register (MIFR).

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  • $\begingroup$ In addition to communications, the ITU also is responsible for allocating geostationary orbit slots. $\endgroup$ Jun 17 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ The ITU has a recommendation (not a requirement) to behave with regard to Earth-bound radio astronomy. Iridium and GLONASS just ignored this recommendation; it is just a recommendation after all. The Iridium fiasco made the FCC be a bit stronger with regard to US satellites. Now satellite providers must come to a mutual agreement with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. That requirement is weak; it appears to me that "we mutually agreed to disagree" is a viable answer to this FCC requirement. $\endgroup$ Jun 17 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ SpaceX is still trying to work with the NRAO with regard to the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) in West Virginia, and also with the radio quiet zone around the Square Kilometer Array (SQA) in South Africa. There are no cellphone towers in the heart of the NRQZ or near the SQA. Garage door openers are illegal. WiFi is illegal. Turning on a cellphone in non-airplane mode is illegal. The problem is the huge constellations of satellites such as Starlink and OneWeb that operate in key frequencies of interest to radio astronomers, and those satellites pass over the NRQZ and the SQA. $\endgroup$ Jun 17 at 14:13

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