Following a study focusing on the federal policy-making processes, the GAO has come up with a trio of recommendations for the U.S. FCC. First, the agency has urged the FCC to analyze and report whether satellite constellations have a significant impact on the environment. Next, the GAO wants the FCC to put in place a robust process for reviewing the exclusions it grants as part of the NEPA rulebook. Finally, the congressional watchdog has asked the FCC to transparently and publicly reveal the factors that are considered when granting an exemption.
As the pace of commercial satellite launches has picked up in the past couple of years, experts have raised alarms about problems like space debris that threatens the ISS and pollution. According to a Nature study published in May 2021, large satellite constellations pose risks such as orbital collision due to satellite parts, aluminum deposition in the atmosphere during debris burnout, night sky pollution, and interference with on-ground telescope observations.
Another Nature study that came out in November 2020 also highlighted the problem of night sky pollution for astronomy due to satellite constellations. Plus, there’s always the possibility of Kessler Syndrome (via Space.com), and things going haywire that could potentially litter Earth’s orbit with an enormous pile of satellite rubble. The risks of militarization and geopolitical tussles over space sovereignty also can’t be ignored. In 2021, the FCC junked a petition for reconsidering the environmental assessment of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, noting that it doesn’t pose any risk.