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FCC slaps satellite startup with $900K fine over unauthorized launch

The company ignored an FCC decision and launched four tiny satellites earlier this year.

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A Swarm demonstration of how its satellite system works. 

Swarm Technologies

A startup that launched satellites without permission is getting fined nearly a million dollars.

The Federal Communications Commission said on Thursday it has settled with Swarm Technologies over the unauthorized launch and operation of the company's small satellites. Swarm will pay $900,000 and is required to submit pre-launch notices to the Commission going forward, the FCC's said in a statement.

The settlement comes almost a year after the Silicon Valley startup launched satellites without authorization. In December 2017, the FCC denied Swarm authorization to launch four of its tiny satellites because the vehicles are so small they couldn't be detected or tracked by the US Space Surveillance Network. That meant they could possibly hit other spacecraft in orbit and cause significant damage.

Swarm went ahead launched the satellites in January. The satellites were meant to demonstrate the company's technology, which it said could reduce the cost of satellite communications for billions of connected devices.

"We accept the decision of the FCC as reflected in its consent decree and appreciate the FCC's ongoing support for Swarm's mission," said Sara Spangelo, Swarm co-founder and CEO, in an email statement. "With the recent FCC authorized launch of three new Swarm satellites into low Earth orbit on the latest Space X Falcon 9 rocket, we move one step closer to enabling low-cost, space-based connectivity anywhere in the world." 

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One of Swarm's 1/4U SpaceBEE satellites.

Swarm Technologies

The FCC found that Swarm also illegally transmitted signals, performed unlawful weather balloon-to-ground station tests and other equipment tests, according to FCC's release.

"We will aggressively enforce the FCC's requirements that companies seek FCC authorization prior to deploying and operating communications satellites and earth stations," Rosemary Harold, chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, said in the release. "These important obligations protect other operators against radio interference and collisions, making space a safer place to operate."