What is a satellite?
A satellite is a type of spacecraft, moving through space at high speeds in circular or elliptical orbits around the Earth. A diverse range of orbits is possible, but the two most common are geosynchronous (GSO or geostationary) and non-geosynchronous (NGSO). Types of NGSO orbits may be Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) or Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO).
A satellite may serve many functions that do not necessarily concern the ACMA. Our interest focuses on the radiocommunications devices associated with the satellite network that allow it to receive and transmit signals to Earth or other space stations.
A satellite network may involve more than one spacecraft (LEO satellite constellations for example) or one spacecraft may host two or more satellite networks. A satellite network may involve using the entire capacity of a satellite, lease of one or more transponders, or lease of specific frequencies within a transponder.
Spectrum available for satellite services
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Table of Frequency Allocations is set out in Article 5 of Volume 1 of the Radio Regulations. It defines the spectrum that satellite services can use in each designated Region of the world. It also accords primary and secondary status to services and provides detailed footnotes offering directions for use of each spectrum allocation where this is necessary.
Radio services of primary status have equal rights within the same band. Services of secondary status are provided on a non-interference basis to the primary. Footnotes draw attention to the use of a specific band by providing for an additional allocation, alternative allocation, a different category of serviceor technical criteria for the use of the band.
Although Australian allocations are broadly aligned with the ITU requirements for Region 3, a number of variations exist due to the unique needs of Australian spectrum users. The Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan (the Spectrum Plan) is therefore the main document used to assess information provided by foreign satellite operators. An example of a variation between the ITU Table of Frequency Allocations and the Spectrum Plan is the spectrum allocation between 3400 and 3600 MHz. For Region 3, the former provides for FIXED-SATELLITE (space-to-Earth) primary and RADIOLOCATION secondary while the allocations for Australia are RADIOLOCATION primary and FIXED-SATELLITE (space-to-Earth) secondary.
Satellite service plans
To ensure that satellite networks do not interfere with existing and planned satellite networks and terrestrial services, the ITU Radio Regulations require a satellite network to be coordinated with all administrations that might be affected.
In some cases, the ITU has already established arrangements to allow for the use of certain frequency ranges by Member States. Those pre-planned arrangements include:
- The Broadcasting Satellite Service Plan set out in Appendices 30 and 30A of the ITU Radio Regulations (the BSS Plan)
- The Fixed Satellite Service Allotment Plan set out in Appendix 30B of the ITU Radio Regulations (the FSS Plan).
Operating satellite networks in accordance with either of these plans does not require detailed coordination with other countries. However, establishing a satellite network in unplanned satellite bands or establishing an additional satellite network in the planned bands does require this. For a number of reasons, most satellite systems have been established in unplanned bands.
Getting the right licence to operate or communicate with a satellite service depends on how it is to be used within a space network. Up and down links to and from the satellite may be licensed via the ground segment or space segment of the network.
The most suitable option depends on the configuration of the satellite, or the satellite system, the nature of its use of Australian spectrum and the commercial preferences of the satellite operator or the service provider.
A radiocommunications licence may be issued to a satellite operator or service provider specifically to authorise transmissions (a Space Licence or one may be issued specifically to authorise reception of transmissions (a Space Receive Licence). Both of these are apparatus licences and provide licensing of the space segment.
When space stations are licensed via the space segment, the operation of ubiquitous earth stations that are communicating with them may be authorised by a class licence issued by the ACMA: the Radiocommunications (Communication with Space Object) Class Licence 2015 (the Class Licence). The ACMA will consider the appropriateness of space segment licensing for specific bands, other than those mentioned in the Class Licence, on a case-by-case basis.
When it is necessary or desirable to licence transponders on satellites to provide services in Australia, the satellite itself must be made subject to the Radiocommunications Act 1992. This is achieved by determining if it is either an Australian space object or a foreign space object. This statutory requirement must be met before a Space or Space Receive licence can be issued.