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FCC Dings Spaceport and a N.M. State Agency for Pirate Radio

Commission says FM signals during a rocket competition last year exceeded legal limits

Logo of Spaceport America, a highly stylized rocket ship shape in blue and redThis is definitely not your typical case of pirate radio enforcement.

The Federal Communications Commission has issued a notice of illegal radio broadcasting to an FAA-licensed space complex and a state agency in New Mexico.

The Denver office of the FCC Enforcement Bureau said it got a complaint about unlicensed FM broadcasts on 95.3 MHz and 96.3 MHz in June of last year. Its agent traced the signals to the property of Spaceport America and said they were heard during the Spaceport America Cup 2022 event.

Spaceport America calls itself “the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world.” It sits on 18,000 acres next to the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico. Its tenants include Virgin Galactic. The Spaceport America Cup is an inter-collegiate rocket engineering conference and competition; the next one starts on June 19 of this year.

The New Mexico State Land Office, according to its website, manages 9 million surface and 13 million mineral acres of state trust land that was allocated to New Mexico by the federal government more than a century ago. The FCC said the office owns the land under Spaceport America.

So the commission sent a letter to Spaceport America Director of Aerospace Operations Bill Gutman and to New Mexico State Land Office Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard. It is similar to the letter it has been sending to property owners and landlords as part of its ramped-up enforcement efforts under the PIRATE Act.

It warns the spaceport and the state agency of possible financial penalties of up to $2.3 million “if … we determine that you have continued to permit any individual or entity to engage in illegal radio broadcasting on the property that you own or manage.”

The FCC told both organizations that they have 10 business days to provide evidence that they are no longer permitting illegal radio broadcasting at the property.

[Update: Read the responses from Spaceport America and the land office.]