Space Agencies Prep to Defend Their Interests at WRC-12

By | December 1, 2010 | Government, Via Satellite

This column has discussed numerous preparations for the upcoming ITU World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-12) in January and February 2012 in Geneva. One of the less visible groups preparing for WRC-12 are international space agencies, which, for years, have informally organized a Space Frequency Coordination Group (SFCG) and recently issued a paper on objectives for the conference.

The SFCG was formed in 1979, in its own words, as a “radio-frequency collegiate of space agencies and related national and international organizations, through which global space systems spectrum resources are judiciously husbanded for the benefit of humanity.” Today, the roster of members includes 26 space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency. The group meets annually and will likely update its WRC-12 positions at a meeting in San Francisco in June or July.

The SFCG says that its members do not represent administrations, but instead, represent their respective space agencies. SFCG was not directly represented at the previous WRC-07, also held in Geneva, in October and November 2007. However, most of the space agencies were members of their national delegations at that event. The only members attending WRC-07 in their own name were ESA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

The possible uses of radio frequencies that SFCG members follow at the radio conferences includes space research and operations, Earth exploration satellites (EESS), meteorological satellites, inter-satellite links, radionavigation and radio astronomy, to the extent this last item is relevant to spacecraft missions. As a result, the list of agenda items at WRC-12 that the SFCG issued in August is very broad. Its WRC-12 objectives paper is a detailed 12-page document covering 16 agenda items (out of about 30 on the WRC-12 agenda).

SFCG focuses in particular on protecting the use of space-based passive sensors that provide ecological and environmental data. While SFCG promotes spectrum efficiency and sharing of bands, it rigorously opposes sharing of bands allocated to the space science services, where sharing has been shown to be infeasible. Thus, on the general agenda item 1.2 calling for enhancing the international regulatory framework, the SFCG’s position mainly is defensive — to avoid any change in definitions or any other adjustments that could jeopardize protection of science services. For instance, the SFCG opposes elimination of a clear distinction between mobile and fixed services, due to the pernicious effect it could have of creating “incompatibility scenarios.”

The SFCG also is concerned about technology such as software-defined radios and cognitive radio systems. Somewhat simplified, its position is that neither concept needs to be included in the international radio regulations just yet, because these technologies might permit intentional emissions of signals to intrude into passive bands. It also opposes any expansion of mobile satellite service allocations under agenda item 1.25, in particular in the 7 and 8 GHz bands.

Among other items, the SFCG wants to keep unmanned aircraft systems as well as high-altitude platform stations out of space science and passive service allocations under agenda items 1.3 and 1.20; aeronautical mobile services out of radio navigation satellite services under agenda item 1.4; and electronic news gathering out of EESS under agenda item 1.5. The SFCG supports actions under agenda item 1.6 on protecting spectrum use by passive services up to 3,000 GHz and expanded protection to space science services under several other agenda items.

Not all of the SFCG positions are defensive. It is in favor of extending the allocation for meteorological satellites in the 7 GHz range at WRC-12 and focusing on additional EESS allocations at the next conference, probably to be held in 2016. It also supports continued studies (under agenda item 8.1) on ways to improve the recognition of Earth observation systems and their benefits. It points out that radio-based observing systems have a “crucial role in detecting, warning and forecasting weather, water and climate related disasters,” which the position paper claims “represent more than 90 percent of natural disasters.”

The SFCG maintains a website at www.sfcgonline.org. Take a look there at its position paper for a more detailed view of this complex topic and the crowded WRC-12 agenda.

Gerry Oberst is a partner in the Hogan Lovells Brussels office.

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