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Use of the electromagnetic spectrum is the main way we communicate with objects in space. Spectrum is a finite resource which is allocated between often competing interests. As such, managing this allocation is a key issue for regulators and those operating in outer space. The management of this allocation takes a lot of time, and it needs to be considered early in any related project. Always check with the regulator for their latest official direction, guidance and information.

Contents of this article

What is spectrum management?

Spectrum management is an international and national effort to regulate the use of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The electromagnetic spectrum is the main way that those on the ground are able to talk to objects in space. However, spectrum is a finite resource. Issues can arise when different parties wish to use the same frequency in the same geographical location at the same time. To combat this problem, governments around the world regulate who can use what part of the spectrum in what locations. These rules will govern your space operations if you are wishing to use spectrum.

About the regulatory framework

Spectrum use is regulated on an international and a national level.


Due to the international nature of spectrum use, there is an international interest in maintaining conformity between countries.

The main body that ensures this is the International Telecommunications Union – the ITU. The ITU deals with States, not individual commercial entities. As such, in dealings with the ITU, entrepreneurs must be represented by a country. More information can be found on the ITU website. Additionally, you can peruse the Constitution and the Convention of the ITU.

See how to navigate the rules for more information on dealing with the ITU.


Each country has its own way of managing use and allocating spectrum to users. This is an area where you must follow the rules in each country you wish to operate in. This can be challenging if you wish to operate in a foreign country, as often the rules are inaccessible to Australians due to language barriers and administrative difficulties.


Rules in each country are different. The process of determining regulations in a foreign country can be a lengthy one – so it is worth beginning early.

In Australia national spectrum regulation is undertaken by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). ACMA deals with Australians and foreign entities wishing to use spectrum in Australia. ACMA is the administrator of the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (AUS) in Australia. In Australia, the Satellite Services Working Group (SSWG) of the Communications Alliance is one body that represents the interests of industry to ACMA.

Click here for more information on spectrum licenses issued by ACMA.

How to navigate the rules

In order to gain access to part of the spectrum there are a number of different processes that need to be followed depending on what your operation entail. This could include whether you are a satellite operator or a ground station operator.

Satellite Operators

1. Apply for an ITU Filing

If you are operating a satellite system you must have an ITU filing in order to operate. ITU filings are filed by countries not by individual commercial operators. You must choose a country that you wish to be represented by to the ITU. This country will manage your ITU filing.


It is important which country you choose to represent you at the ITU.

If you choose Australia, then ACMA will manage this. However, this can be a lengthy and competitive process. In order for ACMA to invest public resources in filing your application, it must be convinced of the public benefits of your product. Good ways to demonstrate your worth are demonstrating how your product/service can help safeguard the lives of Australians, or how your product/service helps achieve a set objective of a government department such as the Department of Defence.

If you choose a foreign country, then the process might potentially be quicker and cheaper. However, keep in mind that the final filing is owned by the country, not the commercial operator. As such, ensure you are confident in the country of your choice, as they could remove your rights to the filing as they please. Navigating foreign judicial systems to rectify decisions you believe are unjust can be difficult.

The first step of an ITU filing is submitting an API (Advance Publication Information). An API contains detailed information on many aspects of your operation. If an API is approved by the ITU it is then published in the International Frequency Information Circular (IFIC). Next, a coordination request is submitted. This coordination request is reviewed by other nations to check for any potential conflicts of interest. If this coordination request is approved, then the system is filed into the ITU’s Master International Frequency Register (MIFR).

Once an API is submitted, the ‘clock’ is started, as you then have seven years to demonstrate ‘bringing into use’, that is that you have demonstrated capability to use the frequency that you have requested and complete the coordination process as described above.

For more detailed information on ITU filings see the following external links

2. Apply for a license with relevant countries

If you are a satellite operator planning to operate in multiple countries, you need to have appropriate permissions in each country to operate at a certain frequency. For example, the relevant authorities in some other countries are:

In Australia, this is managed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). ACMA issues a variety of different spectrum licenses depending on what part of the industry you are operating in, and what part of spectrum you are utilising. There are two main types of licenses relevant to space objects in Australia.

Space license

Issued to operators to transmit from a satellite into Australia using specified frequencies. If a space license is granted, then the Earth receive station is authorised under the relevant class license (Radiocommunications (Communication with Space Object) Class Licence 2015). Specified frequencies are (at time of writing):


Space receive license

Authorise reception of transmissions by a space station.If a space receive license is granted, then the Earth station responsible for transmitting is authorised under the relevant class license (Radiocommunications (Communication with Space Object) Class Licence 2015). Specified frequencies are (at time of writing):


Ground Station Operators

If you are operating a ground station, you may require a frequency allocation from ACMA.

Earth license

Each frequency transmitted by a ground station must be licensed for. Except if that frequency is:

Included in an amateur band or already licensed by a class license due to the space station being communicated with is already licensed. The Earth license can be either a Fixed license or a Mobile license depending on whether the ground station is fixed or mobile.

Earth receive license

If a ground station is only receiving signals, then it can be covered by an Earth receive license.






  • Click here for general information on space system regulation in Australia.


ANGELS Aerospace has developed a novel small satellite design. However, they need to test their satellite and its ability to carry a functional transponder. As such, they wish to perform communications tests between a receiver on the ground and their satellite, using their ground station.

  • They consider beginning applying with ACMA for an Earth license, since they are a ground station wishing to transmit to a satellite
  • However, they do not need a space systems license, since they can test their product using a frequency in the amateur band.
  • As such, they contact ACMA and confirm the conditions that must be met to perform an experimental test in an amateur frequency band.

Frequently Asked Questions

The ITU operates as a body of the United Nations. As such, members of the ITU are states. This is aligned with the history of space law which is orientated towards states rather than commercial operators

See our page on Space Law Fundamentals to understand more about this system.

Obtaining all the relevant qualifications, licenses and documents to legally use spectrum can take a very long time!

It could be argued that this is the most time consuming legal process undertaken by space entrepreneurs.

As such, it is worth beginning this process early. It can take many months and even years to communicate between all the relevant bodies.


There are multiple difference license types available in Australia. The license you apply for will depend on what part of the industry you operate in (e.g. do you own a transponder on a satellite, or a ground station communicating with satellites?). The license will also depend on what frequencies you are planning on using.

See How to Navigate the Rules for more information.

Amateur licenses can be granted for experimentation, in order for you to test your product.

For more information on amateur licenses see ACMA’s page on amateur licenses.

For ACMA licenses the relevant forms can be found here.

This is as much a legal and regulatory question as it is a technical one.

Some frequencies are reserved for specific uses (such as military uses) and will be very difficult to obtain a license for.

Most countries publish a ‘spectrum chart’ that displays what parts of the spectrum are reserved for specific uses.

Australia’s spectrum chart can be found here.

Consider this carefully and consult with relevant authorities such as ACMA if you have any queries.

What to do next

1. Decide what parts of the spectrum you wish to utilise

This involves technical considerations as well as legal/regulatory considerations.

2. Contact the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to discuss an ITU Filing (if necessary)

Discussing ITU filings with ACMA can be a time consuming process. Ensure you begin discussions early.

3. Consider which countries you will require frequency allocations in

Seek out the relevant departments in the countries that you wish to operate in. This may include ACMA in Australia.

4. If you are launching your own satellite, you will need to consider many other legal hurdles including launch destination, launch regulations in Australia, export control and insurance.

There are many other considerations that come after you have considered your spectrum allocation needs. See Related Pages for content relating to these topics.

5. Ensure you comply with all the specifications of the license you are issued

Each license that has been discussed in this article will have its own specifications as to how it should be applied. Check with ACMA and a legal expert if necessary, to ensure you are complying with your obligations under your license.