The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States has accused the start-up Swarm Technologies, a communications company run by former employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google and Apple, of launching four small satellites in space last January without authorization. If the accusation is confirmed, it will be the first time in history that unauthorized satellites are placed in space.
January 12, 2018 was a historic day, marking the 100th satellite put into orbit by the Indian Space Agency (ISRO). Thirty other satellites were also launched that day. But it seems that four of these 31 satellites were not allowed to “take off”. They would be owned by Swarm Technologies, a company founded two years ago by Sara Spangelo, a former employee of Google, and Benjamin Longmier, a developer who sold his previous business to Apple. This five-employee start-up is working to put a constellation of tiny satellites into orbit, which together will be able to provide low-cost Internet access to virtually any part of the globe.
The only problem is that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected Swarm’s request for these first four experimental satellites a month earlier for security reasons – including the risk of collisions with other spacecraft. If the charge is confirmed, it will simply be the first unauthorized launch of commercial satellites. The startup could lose the permission to build its revolutionary network and possibly face some major charges.
These satellites are indeed considered dangerous because of their small size. Each machine measures only 10 cm x 10 cm x 2.8 cm. Satellites of this size are difficult to track, so it is virtually impossible to know if their trajectory will lead them to another object in orbit. And at high speeds, an impact would be catastrophic.