FCC Reduced Spacing Decree Sets off Competition for Remaining Orbital Slots from the SCG Journal September 1983 transcribed by Faith MacPherson

HC Wants Four – Only Seven Left

In a landmark action which both illustrates that less is indeed more, and changes the orbital slot allocation practices of the past 20 years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided last month to cut nearly in half the amount of mandatory room between satellites in geostationary orbit, thereby opening the equatorial skies straddling North and South America to 30 new domestic fixed service birds.

At the same time, the FCC release set a clock running. The report and order stated that in order to be considered for the next round of orbital slot assignments, companies must submit their applications for permission to build, launch, and operate satellites within 60 days from the date that the reduced spacing decree appeared in the Federal Register. The decree was published Sept. 6.

In announcing its decision to reduce the minimum distance between geosync satellites from 4 degrees of arc (approximately 2,000 miles at geosync altitude) to 2 degrees for Ku band (14/12 GHz) birds and to an average 2.5 degrees for C banders (6/4 GHz), the commission cited the growth in space technology which has lead to the expanding constellation of satellites and, in turn, to increased demand for orbital transmission services. It added, “This appears to be the only practicable method that both satisfies the request for satellite communications services and continues the commission’s policy of open entry (to space).”

In the same report and order explaining the reduced spacing, the commission also formally reaffirmed its earlier “go-ahead” authorizations, issued in April to 10 firms, to build, launch, and operate 19 new or previously constructed domsats (SCG Journal, May 1983). One of those vehicles is Hughes Communications’ Galaxy III, scheduled for launch July 1984. The FCC also gave approval for the sale of all the satellite’s transponders.

Two of the 10 applications, Rainbow and USSSI have issued requests for proposals. However, the FCC has said that the companies must sign contracts with satellite builders and prove that their projects have adequate funding by Dec. 31, 1983, or the firms will lose their slot allocations.

The commission’s “open door” policy notwithstanding, there are now very few orbital slots left – and, as is usual in such cases, many more applications. With the 2– and average 2.5- degrees spacing in effect, parking spots are available for two more C band vehicles, four Ku band spacecoms, and one hybrid (C and Ku band) satellite – a total of seven slots. In contrast, the seven firms who’ve filed thus far are asking for a total of five C band positions, 10 Ku band satellite spaces, and two for hybrids. Total: 17 slots – more than twice as many orbital locations as are available. And the competition hasn’t closed; the FCC has said it will accept applications until 5 p.m. on Nov. 7, 1983.

How is the commission going to determine who gets slots and who doesn’t? That’s the big question with which the applicants, Hughes Communications among them, are concerned these days. The SCG subsidiary has filed for a C band slot for Galaxy IV, and for three Ku band locations for its planned HS 393, HC3 system. The FCC has indicated that it may toss out applications that don’t supply all the information requested. The reporting requirements are the same as before. But the FCC said that because of the paucity of slots, the commission will adhere to its rules more strictly this time around. HC, and presumably the other contenders, is now reviewing its apps to see if there’s any input missing.

Here are the seven firms who have filed thus far, and their requests:

C band:

• Cablesat General – two slots (new business opportunity).

• Hughes Communications – one slot.

• Western Union – two slots (new business opportunity).

Five requests; two slots available.


• Ford Aerospace – two slots; one available. Ku band:

• GTE – two slots (new business opportunity).

• National Exchange Inc. – two slots (new business opportunity).

• Hughes Communications – three slots (new business opportunity).

• Western Union – three slots (new business opportunity).

Ten slots requested; four available.



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About Jack Fisher

Jack was a systems engineer at Hughes from 1961 to 1992. He contributed to various programs including Surveyor, Pioneer Venus, Galileo, Intelsat VI and innumerable proposals. He was the manager of of the Spacecraft Systems Engineering Lab until his retirement. Upon retirement Jack taught systems engineering at a number of national and international venues.