Swarm Technologies in Stealth Mode After Unauthorized Launch
The Atlantic’s Marina Koren investigates the mystery surrounding how little is known about Swarm Technologies – the California-based startup aerospace company that made history this past January by becoming the first to secretly launch unauthorized satellites into orbit. What makes the situation even more incredible is that Swarm pulled the launch off despite applying for and being denied access to orbit by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in December 2017.
Swarm Technologies isn’t an unusual or devious startup. Its mission to develop a network of small “SpaceBee” satellites to power connected devices in places without access to wireless connectivity seems fairly reasonable in the current era of innovation. What is unusual to those outside of the Silicon Valley world is that despite winning a $220,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant and leaving evidence of its existence in a trail of paperwork, the company is now in hiding and nobody seems to know where to find them to what to do about the launch.
Koren’s article engages aerospace and regulatory communities justifiably alarmed about the seriousness of the situation. How was this allowed to happen? What security risks are exposed? What ethical and procedural issues need to be addressed concerning the responsibility of regulatory organizations to “guard” access to orbit?
Space may be the final frontier, but it’s by no means a lawless one. Space is a largely peaceful area because nations have agreed, whether in treaties or through unspoken norms, to play by a shared set of rules. Transparency is paramount, even in some cases of military or national-security missions. For a private company to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit without approval from its government flouts the framework that makes an extremely dangerous environment a fairly safe place to be.