On December 29, 2022, IDA lodged an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia of the order of the Federal Communications Commission: In the Matter of Space Exploration Holdings, LLC; Request for Orbital Deployment and Operating Authority for the SpaceX Gen2 NGSO Satellite System.
We appealed in response to the FCC order and authorization approving SpaceX to deploy and maintain a constellation of 7500 satellites in low earth orbit.
The range of impacts to the human environment includes, but is not limited to, harm to professional and amateur astronomy; impairment of cultural, religious, and heritage values of the night sky; risk to the environment through deposition of alumina in the upper atmosphere; exacerbating climate change; and a diminishment in the enjoyment of the dark sky. You can read our recent story from our Nightscape magazine here to learn more.
It is unprecedented for IDA to resort to the court system to resolve disputes. But in this case, we felt compelled to act. With plans to deploy and maintain dozens of satellite constellations, with upwards of one hundred thousand satellites orbiting at any one time, it is critical that federal agencies responsible for making decisions on the future of the night sky – an essential element of the human environment – follow existing laws.
In addition to ensuring compliance with existing laws, a new approach is needed in the long term. As we rush to industrialize the use of low earth orbit, we need a new regulatory framework to ensure the just, equitable, and sustainable use of space for all.
IDA is not opposed to satellites. We rely on them daily for our work – from communicating with advocates worldwide to remote sensing satellites that allow us to understand the impact of light pollution on the planet. Recognizing this, in 2020, we published a set of principles for responsible satellite projects. By following these principles, we can take important steps to ensure the sustainable and equitable use of low earth orbit for all.
IDA’s five principles to preserve the quiet enjoyment of the night sky and protect the general public from the impacts of megaconstellations:
1. Stewardship of the night sky is a shared responsibility that requires participation and consultation with all stakeholders.
2. The cumulative impact on night sky brightness attributed to satellites does not exceed 10 percent above natural background levels.
3. Maintained satellite brightness is below the threshold for detection by the unaided eye.
4. Satellite visibility is an unusual occurrence.
5. Launch schedules and orbital parameters are publicly available in advance.
*Adopted January 2020. Amended September 2021.