Back on March 30th, SpaceX sent yet another of its Falcon 9 rockets skyward, delivering a payload of 10 satellites into orbit for communications company Iridium. Everything went pretty much according to plan — aside from SpaceX failing to catch the nosecone piece it was aiming for — but one thing stuck out to viewers of the company’s launch live stream. Before all of the separations and deployments were completed, SpaceX had to cut its stream short, citing the fact that it didn’t have permission from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to broadcast the rest of the mission.
As one would expect, this caused a lot of theories to flood forth. SpaceX has been forced to cut its broadcasts short in the past, but normally only when they are delivering a government payload into orbit. NOAA issued a statement saying that it was indeed responsible for SpaceX halting its stream halfway through, and pointed to a licensing guideline as the reason. As CNET reports, this licensing fiasco seems to have come out of absolutely nowhere.
NOAA has had the restriction in place for some time, and it requires anyone who wants to broadcast from space, and show images of Earth, to have permission to do so. However, it’s a law that’s been sparsely enforced since its inception, and SpaceX has done plenty of space launch broadcasts without worrying about a license in the past. So, what’s different now?
“The National and Commercial Space Program Act requires a commercial remote sensing license for companies having the capacity to take an image of Earth while on orbit,” NOAA explained in its statement. “Now that launch companies are putting video cameras on stage 2 rockets that reach an on-orbit status, all such launches will be held to the requirements of the law and its conditions.”
NOAA says that the law exists because broadcasting from space has significant national security implications, and it needs to make sure no vital information is compromised when a company decided to start streaming from orbit. Going forward, it seems as though SpaceX’s popularity has given the law new life, and you can bet that all future launches will need NOAA broadcasting clearance.