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Four Tiny Satellites Launched into Space without Permission, Says FCC

Four Tiny Satellites Launched into Space without Permission, Says FCC

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California back in 2017. | Reuters/ Gene Blevins

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reveals a U.S. start-up company launched four mini satellites into orbit after the agency specifically prohibited the take-off.

Silicon Valley start-up Swarm Technologies, founded by former Google and NASA JPL engineer Sara Spangelo, went against the FCC's rules earlier this year to launch SpaceBees 1, 2, 3, and 4, which should help the company test out a "space-based Internet of Things," according to a report from IEEE Spectrum.

Late last year, Swarm applied for a permit from FCC to launch its prototypes into space. The government agency, however, denied its request due to security reasons. According to FCC, the Swarm satellites are too small to be tracked in space, making them a threat to other objects and satellites in space. At the moment, FCC does not have the technology to monitor the smaller than 1U Cubesats, which measure about 4 inches (10 centimeters) in all three dimensions.

"If they're difficult to track... and you want to know in the future: 'Is it going to hit my satellite?' — the answer might be erroneous because we don't have a good orbit for them or we just don't know where they are," Brian Weeden, space expert at the Secure World Foundation, told The Verge.

Swarm reportedly took the agency's note and started working on bigger satellites. However, instead of cancelling the deployment of their small probes, the start-up company pushed through with the launch aboard an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket, which deployed a total of 31 satellites last January 12.

At that time, the Indian company did not name the operator of the four prototypes. Its manifest, however, matches the satellites' description with those of Swarm's.

Now Swarm is once again asking the FCC for permission to launch a new batch of satellites that matches FCC's standards. Swarm is hoping to join the Electron rocket launch of US start-up Rocket Lab, which will take off from New Zealand.

After breaking the rules the first though, FCC has put its request on hold until it finds out the full impact of their previous launch. "We're aware of the situation and can confirm that we set aside their grant while we're looking into the matter," an FCC spokesman told CNBC in an official statement.

Rocket Lab supported the FCC and expressed it is not launching any rocket without permission.