Responsible Office: Space Operations MD

Chapter 3 rf allocation and assignment process and procedures, 3.1 general.

3.1.1 All RF EM spectrum usage by NASA programs, projects, and infrastructure will be pursuant to specific assignments approved by the NASA Spectrum Manager, the AA for HEOMD, or his/her designee under the conditions specified in Section 1.2.

3.1.2 NASA has adopted procedures for requesting frequency assignments and obtaining new frequency allocations in order to effectively implement national and international spectrum management policy. These procedures allow for a thorough coordinated process from identification of Agency program/project needs to national and international recognition of actual frequency band usage.

3.1.3 For the purpose of this NPR, the terms frequency allotment, frequency allocation, and frequency assignment use the definitions adopted from the ITU Radio Regulations (RR) (See Appendix A.)

3.1.4 The frequency assignment process outlined in Figure 3-1 is initiated at the user NASA Center/Facility and results in the issuance by NTIA of a Radio Frequency Authorization (RFA) or Special Temporary Authorization (STA).

3.1.5 If the use is not for a major terrestrial program nor for frequencies to be used for transmissions to and from space, the frequency assignment process is fairly simple as described in paragraph 3.3.b (2).

3.1.6 However, for major new programs or for programs involving spacecraft, NTIA has established a systems review process, for the purpose of certification of spectrum support, by which that use is coordinated within the United States and internationally. This process is described in Appendix G.

3.1.7 The Center/Facility SM shall apprise the contractor(s)/grantee(s) of the need for ensuring that radio frequency support appears feasible for NASA-funded studies or Federal-funded equipment procurements by non-Federal interests, where the use of radio frequencies is foreseen as a result of the study or procurement, Section 3.5 provides additional information.

3.2 Frequency Allocations

3.2.1 In almost all cases, identification of RF EM spectrum support for NASA needs is focused on frequency bands currently allocated nationally and internationally for the particular radio service for which the Agency requires support. This includes both terrestrial use (e.g. fixed, mobile, radiolocation, radionavigation and other terrestrial radio service allocations) and space use (e.g., space research service allocations that support the U.S. space programs). However, in some cases, it may be necessary to move Agency operations elsewhere in the RF EM spectrum where appropriate allocations do not currently exist, particularly as new scientific, technological, and commercial requirements emerge and bands in the existing RF allocations become congested. As shown in Figure 3-1, the identification of the need for a new allocation may be made by reference to the Table of Frequency Allocations or as a result of the systems review process, which includes a study of current frequency band occupancy.

3.2.2 In cases where new frequency allocations are deemed necessary, it is imperative that very long-lead-times (i.e., ten years or longer) be allowed for the national and international processes which are required for new allocations. World Radio Conferences (WRCs) review, and if necessary, revise the Radio Regulations. WRCs meet on a periodic basis (i.e., normally every three-four years). It is essential that NASA is prepared to identify new requirements well in advance of these conferences so that supporting technical and regulatory information can be prepared and presented.

Figure 3-1 shows the Frequency Authorization Process

3.3 Frequency Assignment Process

3.3.1 General

a. Specific procedures by which Agency users may be authorized to operate on a particular frequency depend upon the following factors:

(1) Availability of frequency allocation.

(2) System is terrestrial or spaceborne.

(3) System is considered a major telecommunications system, e.g., high investment.

(4) Duration of the system's operation.

Note: Using OMB regulations, the Center/Facility Spectrum Manager is responsible to ensure that the project completes and submits an economic cost/benefit analysis for each new frequency required. This analysis is done once for NTIA Spectrum Planning Subcommittee (SPS) Stage 2 certification (or at Stage 3 certification, if applicable).

3.3.2 Process for Frequency Selection

a. The process for frequency selection prior to design commitment is outlined below and in Figure 3.2.

(1) Project Commitment (Funding Approved) - Providing project commitment information is key to the successful coordination of design decisions involving the selection of frequencies for systems. An economic analysis justifying the need for the specific frequency and bandwidth is required by OMB Circular A-11. The project/program office has the responsibility to submit this analysis to NTIA SPS during system certification.

(2) Initial Frequency Coordination Guidance - Due to the increasing complexity and usage of the RF spectrum, the availability/cost 8 of spectrum may actually drive the design requirements for future NASA missions. Each Center has a designated Radio Frequency Spectrum Manager who is responsible for obtaining, maintaining, and retiring the RFA for programs, projects, and infrastructure at the Center; and for preventing or mitigating radio frequency interference at the Center or to the Center's programs, projects, and infrastructure. The Center Radio Frequency Spectrum Manager provides guidance on the selection of properly allocated frequency bands to fulfill mission requirements. Once candidate frequency bands and Center frequencies are selected, the dissemination of the information is necessary to ensure that appropriate feedback is obtained to ensure timely resolution of problems from within NASA, as well as with other users of the spectrum.

8 Spectrum fees are being considered but, as of the publication date, have not been established.

(3) Dissemination of Candidate Frequencies - Parties who should receive information about candidate frequencies include the relevant NASA Spectrum Managers at the Center/Facility level and the candidate Government or commercial launch sites that NASA may use in the future. The Center/Facility Spectrum Manager shall send the SPS submissions to the National Spectrum Program Manager, NASA's SPS representative, and alternate SPS representatives. This ensures that the NTIA's SPS concerns are addressed before the submission of a request for certification of spectrum support. Spectrum Managers may also provide additional insight into scheduling issues for frequencies in highly congested bands requiring ground station support.

(4) Comments and Analysis of Frequencies - Projects should employ an approach similar to the RF analysis of the candidate frequencies. Therefore, projects should be prepared to fund an RF analysis that may need to be conducted to ensure electromagnetic compatibility with other users of the proposed frequency band(s) of operation. The results of such an analysis should provide additional information for the selection of the best frequency for a particular mission and should be included in a submission to the NTIA for a request for certification of spectrum support.

(5) Initiate Spectrum Planning Subcommittee Process - The conceptual phase of a mission ends when the necessary analysis has determined the best frequency candidate(s) for a particular mission. The planning phase then begins with an initial submission of a request for certification of spectrum support (Stage 1 or 2) to the NTIA. The NTIA may provide further guidance or raise concerns regarding existing systems that may be incompatible with the particular mission. (See Appendix G of this NPR and Chapter 10 of the NTIA's "Manual of Regulations & Procedures for Federal Radio Frequency Management" -- referred to as the NTIA Manual).

b. NASA's SPS representative or alternate SPS representatives shall submit to NTIA all Center/Facilities responses to questions from NTIA during the systems review process in order to ensure that items are tracked.

c. It is mandatory that all Centers/Facilities use NTIA's Equipment Location -- Certification Identification Database (EL-CID) or current successor software program for the generation of the request for certification of spectrum support. The Center/Facility is also responsible for any additional required data to support a request for certification as described in Chapter 10 of the NTIA Manual. 9

9 Spaceborne systems transmitting in the 2200 MHz to 2290 MHz band are limited to bandwidths of no more than 5 MHz (or approximately 6.16 MHz for spread spectrum use for multiple users on the same frequency through TDRS), in accordance with Section 8.2.41 of the NTIA Manual. Justification for a waiver of this policy is required by the NTIA before any system exceeding this constraint can be certified

Figure 3-2 shows the Frequency Selection Process

3.3.3 Terrestrial Assignments

a. Some terrestrial systems may be classified as major telecommunications systems. These are systems which, even though spectrum allocations currently exist, are required to be submitted to NTIA for certification of spectrum support because they have large bandwidth requirements, new modulation techniques, novel applications, or are considered to have a significant impact on the existing electromagnetic environment. (See Appendix G.).

b. NASA users requiring assignments for radio frequencies for non-major terrestrial use will provide the specific technical information to the Center/Facility Spectrum Manager. This information is submitted for all frequency assignment actions by the appropriate NASA Center/Facility Spectrum Manager to the NASA FAS representative utilizing the NTIA automated processing system to request and receive radio-frequency assignments.

c. The following procedures and notes will aid NASA spectrum applicants, from missions/programs/projects, in the preparation of their applications for frequency assignments and facilitate the processing of the applications:

(1) Step 1: From the operational requirements, determine the specific frequency or band of frequencies, together with alternate frequencies that would be acceptable if the desired frequencies are not available. Allow a lead-time of at least 60 work days for processing of typical land mobile radio operations and up to 180 work days for complex systems requiring pre-coordination with other Federal agencies. The process time commences when the application appears on the FAS electronic agenda.

(2) Step 2: The Center/Facility Spectrum Manager will ensure that the frequencies are available and are in accordance with the National Table of Frequency Allocations. (Do not request "out-of-band" frequency assignments or allocations unless absolutely necessary and with written justification). In cases where out-of-band frequencies will be used, allow the maximum lead-time possible (240 days).

(3) Step 3: Refer to Section 3.4 of this NPR to determine if coordination with other users of the spectrum is required. The type and amount of coordination that might be required varies with the specific frequencies and applications involved. When such coordination is extensive, the user (applicant) provides funds for such coordination, including the preparation of coordination contour charts.

(4) Step 4: For each frequency assignment action required, submit the information to the NASA Center/Facility Spectrum Manager together with any other information that will aid in expediting the application.

d. NASA Center/Facility Spectrum Managers and/or JPL, a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), Spectrum Manager are responsible for processing the information into the proper NTIA computer mnemonic format. For short term uses of RF equipment (i.e., 30 days or less), the Center/Facility Spectrum Manager may determine that only a Special Temporary Authority (STA) is required. Submit this data via the NTIA automated processing system to the NASA FAS representative. Short-term use of greater than 30 days may be granted through a temporary RF authorization. Additionally, for short or intermittent experimental activities conducted within the immediate vicinity of a station, the Center/Facility may provide, on a case-by-case basis, local authorization for certain transmissions in accordance with Section 7.11 of the NTIA Manual.

e. Submission of data or acknowledged receipt does not constitute a frequency assignment or authorization regardless of any verbal agreements or understandings between the applicant and NASA spectrum management personnel. Do not attempt to operate on the frequency requested or to purchase equipment requiring such frequency support until authorized by formal RFA or STA issued through the Center/Facility Spectrum Manager.

3.3.4 Space Assignments

a. Chapter 10 of the NTIA Manual entitled, "Procedures for the Review of Telecommunication Systems for Frequency Availability and Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) and Telecommunications Service Priority for Radio communications (TSP-R)" states that, for Government agencies, the SPS review process is applicable to certain systems and subsystems. Furthermore, space systems are governed by both the U.S. interagency process (SPS review) and ITU requirements (notification/coordination through the SSS). The systems review is a procedure used by the SPS to develop recommendations, on behalf of the IRAC, for the Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Spectrum Management of NTIA, regarding certification of spectrum support for telecommunication systems or subsystems. This review provides an early awareness in the regulatory community and allows for either early support or early identification of potential problems in the future. A system can be reviewed at four stages as it matures into an operational status. These are:

(1) Stage 1. Conceptual

(2) Stage 2. Experimental

(3) Stage 3. Developmental

(4) Stage 4. Operational

c. The SPS Systems Review is intended for:

(1) New telecommunication systems or subsystems and major modifications to existing systems or subsystems, involving the use of satellites or spacecraft.

(2) New major terrestrial systems or subsystems and major modifications to existing systems or subsystems.

(3) Other systems or facilities as may be referred to the SPS on a case-by-case basis. 10

10 Telemetry, tracking, and control for spaceborne systems require a Stage 4 (Operational) certification of spectrum support (from NTIA) before any spaceborne system is launched (even if the spaceborne system is experimental).

d. This review process is mandatory for space systems except those that operate under Appendix K of the NTIA Manual regarding low-power non-licensed devices. For those systems which require review by the SPS and certification by the NTIA, the Center/Facility Spectrum Manager shall be required to coordinate with the NASA SPS representative throughout the review process.

e. Systems that are intended to operate in space will be submitted to the ITU in order to meet the requirements for Advance Publication, Coordination, and Notification as necessary under Articles 9 and 11 of the ITU Radio Regulations. The SSS representative shall use the information provided for certification by NTIA to generate the submission(s) to the ITU and will work closely with the Center/Facility Spectrum Manager to collect any additional information that may be required. The Center/Facility Spectrum Manager may request a waiver from the NTIA's SSS of the requirement to file the ITU notification, provided that the space system operates for less than one year. 11

11 Area coordinators are found in the NTIA Manual.

f. Details of the Systems Review procedure can be found in Appendix G.

3.4 U.S. Coordination Requirements

3.4.1 NASA Components as Tenants at Other Government Agencies

NASA Centers/Facilities having joint tenant status at other Government agencies will coordinate frequency requirements with the host Government agency as required. Applications are then forwarded to the NASA FAS Representative reflecting the recommendations of the host Agency under whose jurisdiction the operation is proposed.

3.4.2 Joint Radio Frequency Coordination for National Test Ranges

a. The Department of Defense (DoD) has established a system of military interservice frequency coordination to minimize interference and to avoid conflict with or among radio and electronic operations at the DoD National Test Ranges. This system requires that certain frequencies be coordinated with DoD Area Frequency Coordinators (AFC) prior to the issuance of assignments. In the interest of economy and compatibility of operations, this system of coordination is used by NASA, in accordance with the joint DoD-NASA Agreement. 12

12 The areas in which Military Interservice Frequency Coordination is required are shown in Table 8.3.26 of the NTIA Manual. Table 8.3.26 also lists the DoD AFC responsible for coordination within each area.

b. DoD AFC maintain current records of frequencies that have been coordinated for use in their area of cognizance. Upon request for frequency coordination, they supply technical comments on the probability of harmful interference being caused or received by the proposed operations.

c. All frequencies intended for use within the National Test Ranges (or within those areas delineated in Table 8.3.26 of the NTIA Manual) which are considered capable of causing harmful interference to operations at the specified test ranges, including any extended established "down-range" areas, are coordinated with the responsible DoD AFC. Area frequency coordination is accomplished by the Spectrum Manager of the NASA Center in accordance with the following procedures:

(1) Step 1: When NASA operations require DoD range support and are to be conducted at sites under military cognizance, select the use of the frequencies required in coordination with the AFC of the range concerned. In the case of those military test facilities where there is no resident AFC, coordinate NASA frequency usage with the local Military Frequency Manager who will, in turn, effect the necessary coordination with the cognizant AFC.

(2) Step 2: If the frequencies required are already assigned for use at the range concerned, the AFC (or local Military Frequency Manager) will effect local authorization and interference protection as necessary. When the frequencies required are not assigned to the range, the AFC will request assignment from the military department having cognizance of that range.

(3) Step 3: Where NASA operations are to be conducted at sites not under military cognizance, but within the area defined in Table 8.3.26 of the NTIA Manual, coordinate the use with the AFC of the range concerned by providing system/emission characteristics for this purpose. The AFC will comment with due regard to all military frequency usage within the area involved.

(4) Step 4: Forward system/emission characteristics in accordance with Chapter 9 of the NTIA Manual to the NASA FAS representative for coordination with other users and IRAC. Include a memorandum stating that coordination has been effected with the AFC involved. The NASA FAS representative will apply for the assignments to cover these operations.

(5) Step 5: Should a frequency conflict arise between the DoD AFC and NASA Center/Facility Spectrum Managers and/or JPL (an FFRDC), Spectrum Manager that cannot be resolved satisfactorily through measures acceptable to the Center involved, forward a complete and detailed report to the National Spectrum Program Manager and the NASA FAS representative who will attempt to resolve the conflict at the Agency level.

3.4.3 Coordination Procedures for the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ)

a. The NRQZ is an area approximately 13,000 square miles set aside for radio astronomy observations. This area is bounded by 39°15'N on the North, 78°30'W on the East, 37°30'N on the South and 80°30'W on the West.

b. To protect the NRQZ from interference, the following criteria have been established:

(1) Based on a 20 kHz measurement bandwidth, the calculated power density of the transmitter at the reference point should be less than:

(a) 1 x 10-8 W/m2 for frequencies below 54 MHz.

(b) 1 x 10-12 W/m2 for frequencies from 54 MHz to 108 MHz.

(c) 1 x 10-14 W/m2 for frequencies from 108 MHz to 470 MHz.

(d) 1 x 10-17 W/m2 for frequencies from 470 MHz to 1000 MHz.

(e) freq2 (in GHz) x 10-17 W/m2 for frequencies above 1000 MHz.

(f) Except for frequencies that reside in the radio astronomy observing bands, in which case the power densities listed in Recommendation ITU-R RA.769-2 will apply. The reference point is located at 38°25' 59.2" N, 79°50' 23.4" W at 2,644 feet (806 meters) above mean sea level at a height of 458 feet above ground level. 13

13 For detailed information on the NRQZ, please see For coordination questions, contact the NRAO Interference Office at 304-456-2107.

c. All proposed frequency assignments to NASA radio stations within the NRQZ are coordinated by the NASA FAS representative per the NTIA Manual Part 8.3.9, prior to authorization.

3.4.4 Coordination Procedures with the Aerospace and Flight Test Radio Coordinating Council (AFTRCC)

a. Coordination procedures are applicable for all frequency assignment actions for use of frequencies in the bands 1435-1525 MHz, 2310-2320 MHz, and 2345-2390 MHz by U.S. Government radio stations within the conterminous United States and are implemented to minimize, through local selection of frequencies and effective coordination, the possibility of interference.

b. All proposed and renewal frequency applications for NASA radio stations will include an AFTRCC concurrence number obtained in accordance with the NTIA Manual Chapter 8.3.17 and Annex D of the NTIA Manual.

3.5 NASA Contractors and Grantees

3.5.1 Applications Required for Contractors and Grantees

If a NASA contractor or grantee requires the use of radio frequencies under the terms of a NASA contract/grant and the contract/grant does not explicitly address control of the transmitting equipment, a determination will be made by the Center SM in consultation with the National Spectrum Program Manager as to whether NASA should apply to the NTIA for the frequency authorization or whether the contractor/grantee should apply to the FCC. The determination is based upon whether the radio station "belongs to and is operated by" the Federal agency or the contractor. The NTIA and FCC provide guidance for such determinations, and all NASA contractors and grantees should work with the appropriate Center Spectrum Manager in making that determination.

3.5.2 Non-NASA Owned and Operated

For NASA-funded but non-Federal designated systems, NASA requires that the contractor or grantee obtain spectrum licensing through the appropriate FCC processes. Appropriate language should be included in the contract, grant, or agreement documents (e.g., contracts, cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs), etc.).

3.5.3 NASA Owned and Operated

a. The Center/Facility Spectrum Manager shall provide to the contracting officer such technical assistance as may be required to enable the issuance of a radio frequency assignment.

b. Contractors, providing or operating RF equipment for NASA use, will obtain RF EM spectrum authorization in accordance with the terms of the contract through the NASA contracting officer. Contractors desiring to use Federal spectrum, as specified in the NTIA table of allocations (Chapter 4), are required to submit their needs to the Center/Facility Spectrum Manager. (The radio frequencies so approved do not belong to the contractor and are only for NASA use. Additionally, NASA will ensure it maintains operational control of the radio equipment, should the need to cease transmissions arise.)

3.6 Foreign Frequency Assignments

Requests for foreign frequency assignments will be provided by the Center/Facility Spectrum Manager responsible for the project to the NASA International Spectrum Program Manager. In the case of frequency assignments to be used in aircraft over foreign territories, the International Spectrum Program Manager works with the Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR). In some circumstances, NASA may request cooperating space agencies to obtain frequency assignments.

3.7 Conditions of Assignment

3.7.1 All Center activities will be assigned frequencies by NTIA through the NASA FAS representative. Documentation of approved assignments is available to the Center/Facility Spectrum Managers via the NTIA automated processing system. Based on this authorization, Center/Facility Spectrum Managers may issue Center RFAs.

3.7.2 Additionally, a copy of the NTIA Manual of Regulations and Procedures for Federal Radio Frequency Management will also be supplied to all Spectrum Managers. Supplements to this manual will be furnished by the National Spectrum Program Manager when published by the NTIA.

3.7.3 All NASA frequency assignments are issued subject to the following conditions:

a. All frequencies assigned to NASA are issued subject to the conditions stated on the authorization. It is the responsibility of the Center/Facility Spectrum Manager to ensure that expiration dates are valid for their assignments and that, by September of each year, they perform updates via the NTIA automated processing system to any radio frequency assignment due for its five year review.

b. Radio transmitters are operated by adequately trained and designated personnel and in a manner conforming to established and accepted procedures.

c. Transmitter operations are conducted by personnel only on authorized frequencies after an assignment has been granted by the NTIA Frequency Assignment Subcommittee and entered into the Government Master File (GMF) or a Special Temporary Authorization has been granted by NTIA.

d. Approved power, emissions, and conditions of assignments shall be adhered to at all times.

e. All land mobile radio transmissions are identified by the use of the authorized radio call signs pursuant to Appendix H of this NPR.

f. Transmitter operations are held within the prescribed tolerances outlined in Chapter 5 of the NTIA Manual unless otherwise authorized.

g. A copy of the current RFA for each fixed radio station should be posted or retained in some manner at the principal control point of each radio transmitter or station.

h. An RF evaluation should be conducted in accordance with NPR 1800.1 requirements to determine the effects on human health, including interference with personnel operations such as maintenance procedures. Evaluations should be handled at a local level with the Center Radiation Safety Officer and/or Non-Ionizing Radiation Safety Officer and in collaboration with the Center/Facility Spectrum Manager. Local procedures will vary at each site and, as a minimum, follow IEEE C95.1, "Safety Levels with Respect to Human Exposure to Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields."

3.7.4 Section 7.11 of the NTIA Manual outlines conditions under which specific frequency usage may be authorized without prior coordination with other Government agencies. The Center/Facility Spectrum Managers may issue local RFAs without referral to the NASA FAS Representative to cover those operations that meet the criteria established in this chapter of the NTIA Manual for the particular frequency usage involved.

3.7.5 All Ground Penetrating radar and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) re-radiators shall receive NASA and NTIA approval prior to use (see NTIA Manual, Annex K for Ground Penetrating radars and Sections 8.3.28-8.3.30 for GPS re-radiators).

3.8 Emergency and Wartime Procedures

3.8.1 Emergency Procedures

a. Under a declared emergency condition, Center/Facility Spectrum Managers may use or assign to an operation under their direction, frequencies not otherwise authorized, provided that:

(1) The nature and duration of the requirement are such that the normal frequency assignment procedures are impractical.

(2) All reasonable measures are taken before such frequencies are used to ensure that harmful interference will not be caused to other users.

3.8.2 Wartime Procedures

a. In wartime, all radio frequencies, both Federal and non-Federal, may be under the centralized authority of NTIA. Normally, under such conditions, military operations will take precedence over nonmilitary operations. However, all priorities established by the NTIA take into account all aspects of the President's communications requirements for the national defense in time of war.

b. NASA's role in providing support for these wartime procedures is established through the NTIA by the NASA Director of Spectrum Policy and Planning and will be implemented as required. The specific procedures are beyond the scope or intent of this NPR.


This document does not bind the public, except as authorized by law or as incorporated into a contract. This document is uncontrolled when printed. Check the NASA Online Directives Information System (NODIS) Library to verify that this is the correct version before use: .

National Academies Press: OpenBook

A Strategy for Active Remote Sensing Amid Increased Demand for Radio Spectrum (2015)

Chapter: 7 spectrum access: allocation policies and the assignment process.

Spectrum Access: Allocation Policies and the Assignment Process


The radio frequency (RF) spectrum has many uses beyond the popular mobile communications and TV broadcasting. The onset of smart phones, tablets, and machine-to-machine communications has created great demand for wireless broadband and digital data to support numerous mobile applications. This increased demand for mobile broadband creates a derived demand for additional RF spectrum for mobile broadband. Some of the many examples include smart phone applications, as well as wireless broadband deployed in support of applications in agriculture, automotive, education, energy efficiency, health, commerce, and smart cities. The largest increase in mobile broadband use has been in video. By the end of 2013 it was estimated that greater than 50 percent of wireless broadband use was for video. 1 This is expected to continue to be the greatest driver of additional wireless broadband demand.


1 Sandvine, Global Internet Phenomena Report , 2013, .


U.S. Radio Spectrum Policies

U.S. spectrum policy is driven by its broader broadband policy, which can be summarized as “more is better.” In 2010, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a National Broadband Plan (NBP). 2 This plan set a goal of allocating an additional 500 MHz of RF spectrum to mobile broadband uses over the next 10 years. Two significant reallocations meet a portion of this goal and will be available in the next few years:

  • Advanced Wireless Services, Band 3 (AWS-3) . This will extend the existing wireless broadband AWS band and make 65 MHz of spectrum available through a combination of reallocating and sharing with federal users.
  • TV Incentive Auction . This will simultaneously buy out TV broadcasters and sell the reclaimed RF spectrum to mobile broadband providers. The amount of spectrum reallocated will be determined in the auction by a combination of what mobile wireless providers are willing to pay and how much TV broadcasters demand for their licenses. If properly designed and executed, this auction should reallocate up to 120 MHz from TV to mobile broadband uses.

These two allocations, however, comprise less than 200 MHz of new spectrum for mobile broadband. Meeting the remainder of the NBP’s goal of 500 MHz of spectrum will be difficult because it will involve significant transfers of spectrum currently dedicated to various uses by federal government agencies. 3 Much of this spectrum is likely to be made available to the private sector only on a shared basis.

International Radio Spectrum Policies

The United States is not alone in its desire to have more RF spectrum available for commercial uses. Table 7.1 is a snapshot across the world indicating the amount of spectrum in the pipeline for mobile broadband, and Figure 7.1 depicts the large and growing global use of mobile phones. Finding this additional spectrum is a challenge for policy makers and may be unattainable. The tools available to policy makers to meet these goals consist of reallocation, spectrum sharing, and developing higher spectral efficiencies.

2 FCC, “National Broadband Plan,” , accessed June 4, 2015.

3 It is also possible that spectrum allocated to satellite uses that could be used terrestrially could go toward this 500 MHz.

TABLE 7.1 Summary of Total Available Licensed Spectrum Available for Mobile Broadband (in megahertz)

NOTE: U.S. Pipeline numbers do not include the significant amount of spectrum that will be made available for mobile broadband from incentive auctions and federal repurposing.

SOURCE: Federal Communications Commission, “The Mobile Broadband Spectrum Challenge: International Comparisons,” FCC White Paper, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Office of Engineering and Technology, Washington, D.C., February 26, 2013.

Outside the United States, it is common to allocate spectrum to a specific cellular technology (2G, 3G, or 4G). Reallocation, sometimes referred to as refarming, could involve moving from 3G to 4G services and enabling higher efficiencies, exploiting the digital dividend from more efficient TV broadcasting technology, or finding bands of low usage and thus reallocating them to a higher use. Exploiting the digital dividend by migrating from analog to digital TV, and freeing up spectrum for other uses in the process, is a primary means of providing additional spectrum. 4 The Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) spectrum is also under consideration for terrestrial uses.

The European Union (EU) has been addressing the potential for spectrum sharing through the TV Whitespace, as well as Licensed Shared Access (LSA) and Authorized Shared Access (ASA) for both the 2.3 GHz and the 3.5 GHz band.

With additional capital investments, higher spectral efficiencies can be obtained by waveform and network optimization as well as higher spatial reuse (cell splitting). Moving from waveforms for voice services to data services can provide sig-

4 Over the past decade, interest was expressed by both the private sector and government institutions in several countries, including the United States, to develop high-speed communication using the power grid instead of towers and repeaters. To date, the concept has not materialized, but should such an approach become feasible, its potential RFI effects on active sensing could be detrimental.


FIGURE 7.1 Top 13 mobile operators. SOURCE: Data from J. Groves and W. Croft, “Operator Group Ranking, Q1 2013: Chinese Carriers Continue Strong Growth; Egypt Deal Lifts Orange,” Research, GSMA Intelligence, July 4, 2013, .

significant improvements in spectral efficiency. Enabling greater use of femtocells 5 and tower access and thus higher spatial reuse can also have significant positive impacts.


The entire radio spectrum is divided into blocks or bands of frequencies that are used for specific types of services. The spectrum management process is broken up into two general areas: spectrum allocation and spectrum assignment.

Spectrum allocation determines what blocks of frequencies are used for what specific purpose under a set of technical and operational rules. For example, spectrum managers in some countries have allocated 698 to 793 MHz band (a.k.a. 700 MHz band) for mobile services that eventually became 4G/LTE mobile broadband. Spectrum can be allocated on a primary basis in which that service is given priority and is protected from other services that may come in at a later date and create interference to the operations of the primary allocated service. Spectrum can be allocated on a coprimary basis in which its use is also protected in the same manner as a primary service. Secondary allocations are for services that are allowed but must protect all primary (and co-primary) services. For example:

5 Femtocells are discussed in Chapter 9 .

  • Primary allocation in the 3.1 to 3.3 GHz band is Radio Location Service (RLS), which includes S-band radars.
  • Secondary allocation in the 3.1 to 3.3 GHz band is Earth Exploration Satellite Service (EESS) and Space Research Services (SRS).

Spectrum assignment determines who gets to access blocks of the spectrum over a specific geographic region in support of a specific service. This comes in the form of a license or an assignment. A typical example of this would be a major cellular service provider (e.g., Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile) licensed to operate specific blocks of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, or the military being assigned a band for its exclusive use. In some cases, spectrum can be accessed through “license by rule” in which a specific entity is allowed to operate but does not have a license. This is also called unlicensed spectrum (United States) and license-free spectrum (EU). One well-known example is the Wi-Fi band at 2.4-2.483 GHz.

U.S. Framework

Radio regulation in the United States began in 1910 with the Wireless Ship Act requiring ocean going ships to have transmitting equipment. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 precipitated international obligations in wireless communications and eventually in the Radio Act of 1912. The Radio Act provided regulation for licensing all transmitters for interstate and foreign commerce to be overseen by the Secretary of Commerce.

During the 1920s there was an explosion of requests for licenses and burgeoning interference concerns, which were addressed by then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. The Radio Act of 1927 established a new temporary independent agency, the Federal Radio Commission, with the stated purpose to resolve these numerous interference issues. 6 The commission was empowered to impose rules and regulations for both the licensing and operations of the radio spectrum.

In 1934 Congress passed the Communications Act, which put both wired and wireless communications under the regulatory control of a permanent agency called the Federal Communications Commission. Ever since, the FCC has been directed by five commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the

6 Some argue that its ulterior purpose was to protect incumbent interests and limit competition. See T. Hazlett, The wireless craze, the unlimited bandwidth myth, the spectrum auction faux pas, and the punchline to Ronald Coase’s big joke—An essay on airwave allocation policy, Harvard Journal of Law and Technology 14(2), 2001.

Senate for 5-year terms. The President designates one commissioner to serve as chairman. Today the Commission has 7 bureaus and 11 staff offices. 7

The United States has a separate administrative office that manages federal use of the RF spectrum. The Office of Spectrum Management within the NTIA of the Department of Commerce provides this function. Therefore the United States has two separate organizations providing spectrum management: an independent agency, the FCC, for all nonfederal uses and the executive branch office of NTIA for federal uses. In addition to the two regulatory agencies, the U.S. Congress also intervenes in spectrum policy—for example, by directing the reallocation of a band of spectrum and then mandating that the reallocated frequencies be auctioned.

International Framework

Spectrum policy and management at the international scale is broken into cooperative activities across borders in the shape of treaties and regulatory activities within a sovereign nation. The use of RF spectrum is very different than use of other national resources. First of all, RF transmissions cannot be contained at the borders, and thus border agreements between nations to address potential interference scenarios must be addressed. Secondly, uses of the RF spectrum in space (for example, satellite systems) need to be coordinated because the actual transmitters cross international borders.

Cooperation at the international scale for spectrum management occurs both at the global level, in the form of agreements made at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and at the regional level, such as the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications (CEPT) Administration.

The ITU is a specialized agency within the United Nations. It specializes in promoting cooperation for spectrum allocation and global regulation of the radio spectrum. Individual countries sometimes deviate from ITU rules and spectrum allocations, however, because the organization does not have an effective enforcement mechanism for its rules and allocations and thus largely depends on countries to abide by the rules because it is in their own long-term self-interest to do so. The ITU has divided the world into three regions to enable specific rules and spectrum allocations customized to those geographies (see Figure 7.2 ). This methodology may no longer be appropriate because of the global nature of the telecommunication marketplace.

One division of the ITU, the ITU-R (Radio Communication Sector), holds

7 The seven bureaus are Consumer and Government Affairs, Enforcement, International, Media, Public Safety and Homeland Security, Wireless Telecommunications, and Wireline Communications (see Federal Communications Commission, “Bureaus and Offices,” , accessed June 4, 2015).


FIGURE 7.2 International Telecommunication Union geographic regions. SOURCE: NASA, NASA Radio Frequency (RF) Spectrum Management Manual , NASA Procedural Requirement (NPR) 2570.1B, effective date December 5, 2008, Figure 1-1 , .

the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), where it proposes intergovernmental treaties on spectrum allocations. The most recent WRC was held in 2012, and the next conference is scheduled for 2015. The U.S. delegation is led by a term-limited ambassador specifically appointed for the WRC. The results of a conference are sets of treaties on spectrum allocations and equipment rules. Any such treaties need to be ratified by the U.S. Senate if they are to become binding within the U.S. regulatory framework. There have been multiple occasions where only a limited number of the treaties from a specific WRC are ratified. Therefore the rules and allocations adopted by either the FCC or NTIA are not always in agreement with those of the ITU.

Regional organizations, such as CEPT, are voluntary associations across the member communities. They attempt to develop common policies and regulations across their community and are a focal point for information on spectrum use among its members. An example of regulations would be a series of recommendations for the technical rules for specific services and/or recommendations for how to perform interference analysis on specific systems. Many of the technical rules that are implemented by regulators across the world are based, at least in a small part, on these analyses and recommendations.

U.S. Federal Assignments

Federal frequency assignments are provided by the Office of Spectrum Management within NTIA. NTIA has a formal process in which all federal spectrum users provide advisory support through the Interdepartmental Radio Advisory Committee (IRAC). The following two examples demonstrate how federal departments provide support in securing frequency assignments:

  • National Science Foundation (NSF) . The Electromagnetic Spectrum Management (ESM) unit at NSF is responsible for assisting projects and systems to gain access to the radio spectrum for research. ESM is represented in IRAC and participates in ITU committees. Spectrum uses that come under its rubric include radio telescopes and radio astronomy, radar astronomy, incoherent scatter radar arrays, HF radars, micro- and nanosatellites, S-band radars, and telecom systems for polar programs.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Radio Frequency Management Division is responsible for assisting users within the entire Department of Commerce in obtaining access to the RF spectrum. It is represented in IRAC and participates in the ITU, the Organization of American States Commission for Inter-American Telecommunications, the Space Frequency Coordination Group, and a steering group on radio frequency coordination of the World Meteorological Organization.

The federal government maintains software and informational resources to assist in applying for spectrum assignments for federal use. The Spectrum XXI (SXXI) software was developed to fulfill a need to automate many processes and to standardize spectrum management processes throughout the federal government. 8 SXXI assists in the process of obtaining a frequency assignment and also carries out other support functions, including interference analysis. NTIA also keeps current a Government Master File that catalogs the frequencies assigned to all U.S. federal government agencies in the United States. 9 Nevertheless, security and other concerns obscure how some spectral bands are used.

8 See DISA, SPECTRUM XXI: Spectrum Management in the 21st Century , ITT Advanced Engineering and Sciences, , accessed June 4, 2015.

9 See “National Telecommunications and Information Administration,” , accessed June 4, 2015.

U.S. Nonfederal Assignments

Nonfederal spectrum use licenses are obtained through the FCC via multiple mechanisms: by rule, direct assignment, auction, or acquisition. There also are means of obtaining experimental and Special Temporary Authority (STA) licenses.

  • License by rule (unlicensed access). This is commonly used for accessing the spectrum by unlicensed devices such as those used in Wi-Fi local area networks. The ability to access the spectrum is defined by the technical rules stipulating that any piece of equipment that follows technical rules may access that portion of the spectrum. The 2.4-2.483 GHz band for Wi-Fi is an example of where such an approach is applied. A variant of license by rule are the nonexclusive licenses now proposed in the 3.5 GHz band.
  • Direct assignment. This is used for systems in which an auction may not be applicable or desirable, such as when there are no competing commercial demands for the band. In this case, the FCC directly provides a license based on requirements that are specific to the band and service type. For example, the mobile satellite service (MSS) spectrum was licensed in this manner.
  • Auction. Since the mid-1990s when Congress first directed the FCC to use auctions, this has been the most commonly understood mechanism for obtaining a commercial RF spectrum license. Since 1994 the FCC has held approximately 100 auctions for spectrum licenses. Each auction has specific rules such as who can participate, bidding mechanisms, and credits for small businesses or new entrants. Almost $100 billion has been generated through auctions in the United States. 10
  • Acquisition. Licenses are often traded between companies. Furthermore, the spectrum holdings of a company that is being acquired is transferred to the parent entity. In both cases, this requires FCC approval. There are cases in which the FCC may not approve such an acquisition if it believes that harm will be done to the consumer. An example of this is when an acquisition would reduce competition and thus increase the potential for monopolistic or duopolistic behavior. 11
  • Experimental license . The FCC allows for scientific research and technical

10 See FCC,“FCC Auctions: Band Plans,” , accessed June 4, 2015.

11 See, for example, Federal Communications Commission, “Order Dismissing Applications and Staff Report: Staff Analysis and Findings,” , accessed January 26, 2015.

development without an explicit long-term license. An STA is an experimental license that is not expected to last more than 6 months. 12 , 13

The FCC maintains software and information resources to assist users in applying for spectrum licenses and to understand the current state of licenses across the country. Two resources are particularly useful: the Universal Licensing System 14 (ULS) and the Spectrum Dashboard. 15 The ULS allows a user to search for all of the licenses that have been assigned for a specific frequency band, geographic area, and/or service type. The Spectrum Dashboard allows a user to look at specific frequency bands and to determine which services are allowed, which technical rules are enforced, and which licenses have been assigned.

Challenges of New Allocations

Gaining access to the spectrum for new uses can be a difficult and time-consuming process. As noted, uses of RF spectrum that cross country borders require international coordination. The WRC process, required for new international allocations, can take years if not decades. 16 Even for purely domestic allocations, finding spectrum for new uses is very difficult. Virtually all readily usable RF spectrum has some incumbent user with an interest in maintaining current allocations. Consequently, any new allocation and subsequent assignment will displace the rights of some existing entity, generating opposition to change. As a result, spectrum allocation tends to be an inherently political process with many competing interests. For example, the digital TV transition that ultimately led to the 700 MHz allocation was begun in the 1980s and took two laws—one in 1997 and another in 2006—before the reallocation could be consummated in 2009, with services beginning to be deployed a couple of years later.

12 See Part 5 of the FCC rules governing the usage of the experimental radio service (47 CFR Part 5, available at_ ).

13 The committee is aware of possible changes to the rules regarding FCC experimental licenses, but the impact on remote sensing systems is unclear at present.

14 FCC, “Universal Licensing System,” , accessed June 4, 2015.

15 FCC, “Spectrum Dashboard: Exploring America’s Spectrum,” , accessed June 4, 2015.

16 An example of this process would be the allocation of spectrum for mobile satellite services (MSS). Initial work in ITU-R in the 1980’s precipitated the WRC-1992 to allocate 1980-2010 MHz and 2170-2200 MHz for MSS worldwide. FCC completed the allocation of the sub-band 1990-2025 MHz and 2165-2200 MHz for MSS in 1997. The technical rules were completed by the FCC in 2000. In 2001 the FCC assigned eight licenses. By 2010 six licenses had been revoked and the remaining two license holders had filed for bankruptcy. By 2012 the band had be reduced to 30 MHz and reallocated to allow mobile terrestrial service and now called AWS-4 (Advanced Wireless Services, Band 4).


One of the most important advances in educating the future science and aerospace workforces has been the introduction of the CubeSat program by NSF. In this program, students under faculty supervision design, build, launch, and analyze data from a small satellite, usually a 10 cm cube, with a mass of no more than 1.33 kg. The sounding rocket and balloon programs of NASA were for many generations the vehicles by which future experimentalists were trained. With the advent of CubeSats, that educational experience, for both scientists and engineers, has been extended to actual satellites.

The introduction of CubeSats has also led to a burst of creativity from which it is now being recognized that CubeSats in larger versions, either individually or through constellations, can make important scientific measurements, particularly of Earth and geospace. For example, the 2013 National Research Council report Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society 17 anticipates and promotes the concept that constellations of CubeSats will be essential to understanding the space environment of Earth.

The emergence of this new satellite technology, with its unique and in some ways challenging needs for spectrum, has been difficult to accommodate within the deliberative and cumbersome spectrum allocation process. The issue is particularly acute for CubeSats that are for educational purposes, which are, by definition, extremely low-cost and run by students. A complicated bureaucracy for getting a communication license runs counter to the education intent and is a serious impediment to the success of the educational CubeSat program.

There is also confusion about what license to seek. If the educational CubeSat is deemed a government satellite, which most are not, one must download to government ground stations, for which the cost normally exceeds the budget of a low-cost CubeSat. Alternatively, if the CubeSat is not considered to be a government satellite, a license can be sought in the amateur radio band. However, this has become more difficult, since the VHF band for CubeSats has been eliminated, leaving only the UHF band as a possibility.


This report offers a number of different ways in which the value of active sensing for research can be estimated. Table 2.5 provides the estimated financial savings to the U.S. economy to which active atmospheric sensing contributes, according to NOAA. Finding 3.2 says, “Active microwave sensors provide unique ocean measure-

17 National Research Council (NRC), Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society , The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.

ments for scientific and operational applications that are vital to the interests of the United States.” Chapter 4 adds that active microwave remote sensing of the land has proven valuable across a number of science disciplines and practical applications, including geology, urban planning, agriculture and crop management, forestry and biomass assessment, hydrology and water resource management, weather forecasting, generation of topographic maps, sea ice mapping and glacier studies, earthquake and volcano studies, and postdisaster assessment. Chapters 5 and 6 also state that active sensing of the near-Earth environment is essential to understanding space weather and identifying near-Earth objects.

Other benefits certainly flow from this research. Basic research begets advanced research; technologies spin off from research; and training the next generation of scientists and engineers spurs society’s technological progress.

However, many of these benefits are not easy to fully internalize in a market system, so the value of active sensing is very difficult to compare with commercial systems. For example, benefits from advances in weather prediction might be hard to internalize such that private entities would not invest sufficiently in the prediction systems. Also, basic research such as this develops knowledge, which is a public good that is again hard to fully internalize in a market system. Early scientific discoveries can also lead to many different paths of social benefits.

When considering the relative values of various potential services for a given spectrum band, regulators should take into account that the value of the scientific uses of the spectrum is not easy to establish and thus difficult to compare against the value of the commercial uses.


The National Academies of Scineces, Engineering, and Medicine conducts large surveys of each of the space science disciplines, called decadal surveys, about every 10 years. The surveys, executed by members of the research community, set science and mission priorities for the coming decade. The effort results in a report that provides guidance to the federal agencies supporting the discipline, and the agencies typically set about executing the priorities to the extent possible. The two disciplinary surveys most relevant to this report are the solar and space physics survey and the Earth science and applications from space survey. 18 To date, neither decadal survey has addressed spectrum needs for these communities, although it would be beneficial to do so in the future.

18 The most recent survey of solar and space physics is Solar and Space Physics , 2013. The most recent survey of Earth science is NRC, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond , The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.


Finding 7.1: The U.S. approval process for transmit assignment for environmental radar is too cumbersome, lengthy, and inefficient. The U.S. Interagency Radio Advisory Committee operates by consensus of its members and thus provides numerous opportunities to table or veto applications. Specifically, the allocation for P-band radar allocations is ineffective and encourages only voluntary self-compliance by the applicant.

Finding 7.2: Merit alone will not assure that the spectrum required is available for the scientific community. Scientific interests must be actively engaged in the spectrum allocation and assignment process to assure that science needs are met.

Improving this situation will require ongoing effort in two complementary areas.

Recommendation 7.1: The science community should increase its participation in the International Telecommunications Union, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission spectrum management processes. This includes close monitoring of all spectrum management issues to provide early warning for areas of concern. It also requires regular filings in regulatory proceedings and meetings with decision makers to build credibility for the science community and ensure a seat at the table for spectrum-related decision making that impacts the science community.

This increased participation could be encouraged by organizations such as the International Radio Science Society, the American Astronomical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Geophysical Union, and supported by the relevant funding agencies.

Recommendation 7.2: For participation in the spectrum management process to be effective, the science community, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense should also articulate the value of the science-based uses of the radio frequency spectrum. Such value will include both economic value, by advancing commerce or reducing the adverse economic impact of natural phenomena, and noneconomic values that comes from scientific research.

Finding 7.3: CubeSats that are undertaken for education are essential for the training of the nation’s aerospace workforce. They are at the forefront of the revolution in small satellite technology that is becoming essential to understanding the envi-

ronment of Earth and geospace. However, the spectrum allocation process creates impediments to the success of the educational CubeSat program.

Recommendation 7.3: Given the importance of the educational CubeSat program for the development of the aerospace workforce and for the development of small satellite technology, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration should undertake a concerted and coordinated effort to eliminate impediments in the spectrum allocation process that are currently inhibiting the success of educational CubeSats.

Recommendation 7.4: The next decadal surveys in solar and space physics (see Recommendation 5.2 ) and Earth science and applications from space should address the future spectrum needs of those communities.

Active remote sensing is the principal tool used to study and to predict short- and long-term changes in the environment of Earth - the atmosphere, the oceans and the land surfaces - as well as the near space environment of Earth. All of these measurements are essential to understanding terrestrial weather, climate change, space weather hazards, and threats from asteroids. Active remote sensing measurements are of inestimable benefit to society, as we pursue the development of a technological civilization that is economically viable, and seek to maintain the quality of our life.

A Strategy for Active Remote Sensing Amid Increased Demand for Spectrum describes the threats, both current and future, to the effective use of the electromagnetic spectrum required for active remote sensing. This report offers specific recommendations for protecting and making effective use of the spectrum required for active remote sensing.

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Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting Networks pp 1–58 Cite as

Frequency Planning Basics

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