The FCC Space Bureau: Women leaders shaping the future of space

February 27, 2024

A TMC interview with six stars of the Space Bureau

In April 2023, the US Federal Communications Commission launched the Space Bureau to reflect the growing needs of the next-generation Space Age. This change and new emphasis on space innovation was led by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, the first woman to permanently serve as Chair of the FCC.

Chairwoman Rosenworcel notes that, “There are now so many new technologies in the space industry, so many applications pending before the agency, and so many more innovations on the horizon that the agency can’t keep doing things the old way and expect to thrive in the new. Today, the Space Bureau is up and running. It is designed to support United States leadership in the space economy, promote long-term technical capacity to address satellite policies, and improve our coordination with other agencies on all of these issues. Of course, an organization is only as strong as its leadership.”

The Chairwoman appointed international communications attorney Julie Kearney to head the Bureau. She leads a team of talented experts, many of whom are women, who have been appointed to senior leadership roles. The Mobile Century has a long-standing interest in the New Space sector and was fortunate to speak to several of the Bureau’s senior women leaders, to understand how they came to pursue a career in space policy and regulation, and the Bureau’s key issues during its first years.

Julie Kearney, Chief, FCC Space Bureau

TMC: Congratulations on your appointment as the first Chief of the FCC’s Space Bureau. For those who are not familiar with the FCC and the new Space Bureau, could you explain the Bureau’s main role and responsibilities?

Julie: Thank you – I am honoured to be at the FCC during this exciting time for space innovation. The Space Bureau plays a key role in advancing the Commission’s Space Innovation Agenda to meet the needs of the next generation Space Age. The Bureau promotes a competitive and innovative global communications marketplace by leading policy and licensing matters related to satellite and space-based communications and activities.

Among its responsibilities, the Bureau:

  • leads complex policy analysis and rulemakings;
  • authorizes satellite and earth station systems used for space-based services;
  • streamlines regulatory processes to provide maximum flexibility for operators to meet customer needs; and,
  • fosters the efficient use of scarce spectrum and orbital resources.

The Space Bureau also serves as the FCC’s focal point for coordination with other US government agencies on matters of space policy and governance and collaborates with our Office of International Affairs (OIA) for consultations with other countries, international and multi-lateral organizations, and foreign government officials that involve satellite and space policy matters.

TMC: You have had a long and distinguished career in communications law, regulation and policy development, driving innovation in leading companies and organisations including Twilio, Loon (Alphabet), National Public Radio, MCI, the Consumer Technology Association, and in private legal practice. What sparked your interest in digital communications and digital tech, and in particular the space sector?

Julie: My career has spanned a wide range of roles and employers, but the thread connecting each role has been rooted in enabling technologies that connect people. Technology, including communications technology, has the power to change and improve lives. In fact, almost 27 years ago, I wrote my law review article on regulatory issues surrounding telemedicine delivery. I highlighted the benefits for children in Pripyat, Ukraine, in the years following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Communications services have come a long way since then, with regulatory frameworks to enable access. My interest in the space sector is a natural extension of my passion for creating regulatory frameworks that foster an innovation-friendly environment for both new and traditional technologies. Since the FCC licensed the first commercial satellite in 1962 to today, it is remarkable to see the commercial space sector grow and thrive. The next- generation space age is being fuelled by communications, and the FCC – along with many of our regulatory counterparts around the globe – plays an active and critical role in determining the success of new applications and technologies.

TMC: The New Space sector is facing a number of important challenges in coming years, as well as opportunities to contribute to finding solutions to the major issues facing the planet and mankind. How do you see the Space Bureau contributing to this important work?

Julie: The FCC and the Space Bureau are important contributors to the broader connectivity and economic ecosystem of this new Space Age. We’re licensing commercial satellites that are providing greater connectivity to unserved and underserved communities. At the same time, we’re in an era of novel space activities, like lunar landers, space tugs that can deploy other satellites, and space antenna farms that can relay communications. All of these rely on robust communications systems that we license, not to mention the launches that put commercial satellites into orbit. At the same time, our satellite licensing rules have included requirements for orbital debris mitigation since 2004 – twenty years. With communications as a predominant driver for space activities, the FCC and Space Bureau will continue play a key role in protecting and sustaining space – for now and for future generations.

Julie Kearney is the first Chief of the Space Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Launched in April 2023, the Space Bureau plays a key role in next generation Space Age.

Prior to joining the FCC, Kearney was Vice President of Communications Regulatory Affairs and Policy at Twilio Inc. At Twilio, she led global regulatory and policy efforts pertaining to telecommunications and law enforcement response.

Previously, she was Global Head of Communications Regulation and Policy for Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet, where she led the company’s US and international regulatory initiatives. Other roles include: VP of Regulatory Affairs for the Consumer Technology Association; government affairs at NPR; international affairs at MCI (now Verizon); and associate at Haley Bader & Potts (now Foster Garvey).

Kearney is a past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association (FCBA) and she also served as chair of the FCBA Foundation. She was a long-serving member of the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer Advisory Committee and recently served on its Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. Other Board positions include USTelecom and the United States Technical Training Institute (USTTI).

Kearney earned her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and a J.D. from Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law with a certificate from its Law and Technology Institute. She recently completed a 3.5 year term on the Columbus School of Law’s Board of Visitors. A trained singer, she has sung with choruses in the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, DC area, most recently with Schola Cantorum (CA) and the Choral Arts Society of Washington (DC).

Kerry Murray, Deputy Chief and Chief of Staff, Space Bureau

TMC: What do you see as the potential contributions/benefits of space tech to the solution for the many issues facing people today? How can we collaborate to achieve these solutions on a global scale?

Kerry: There are so many possibilities – the space industry is incredibly innovative and we hear about exciting new ideas every day. Space-based services seem uniquely situated, however, to help us reach the goal of universal broadband deployment. There are many locations in the United States and around the world where it’s not practical to deploy fiber or access is difficult even with mobile telephony services. Satellite services can reach these locations. In addition, the technology exists to connect regular smart phones with satellites to provide back-up, life- saving emergency text, and messaging services. We are already starting to see the benefits of this development in search and rescue and disaster recovery efforts, and these trends will likely only increase. In terms of collaboration, we have upcoming, global opportunities to support innovative uses of satellite technologies for every day and lifesaving uses.

TMC: The Space Bureau is remarkable in the qualifications and breadth of experience of the women who have been appointed to lead its work. The GTWN has recently celebrated 30 years supporting women at the senior levels of the communications industry, including the space sector. What do you see as the future role of international organisations such as the GTWN in supporting the process of culture change?

Kerry: The industry – and the FCC – has made remarkable strides in terms of attracting and retaining women and people of diverse backgrounds to senior levels. At the FCC, we’ve recently broken that barrier – with the first US Senate-confirmed woman, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, to lead the FCC. Still, it would be nice to see more diversity at the very highest levels in more space-based companies. The industry as a whole has made strides in that direction. I believe that actually seeing women perform at the highest levels will inspire the next generation of women achievers. I have no doubt that GTWN will play an essential part in nurturing and mentoring the next generation of STEM leaders who work in the space industry.

Kerry Murray currently serves as Deputy Chief and Chief of Staff of the Space Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission. She has served in these roles since April 2023, when the Space Bureau was established. She joined the International Bureau as Deputy Chief of the Satellite Division in 2015, where she has focused on regulation and licensing of space and earth stations, facilitating emerging technologies and satellite broadband services. Previously, she served as Director of Global Government Affairs & Public Policy at Dell, Director of International Affairs at MCI, Senior Counsel in the Telecommunications Division of the International Bureau, associate at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. She earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, and her bachelor’s degree from Duke University.

Jennifer Gilsenan, Deputy Chief, Space Bureau

TMC: One of the key objectives of the Bureau is to advance the FCC’s Space Innovation Agenda including ensuring sustainable growth for the space sector. How is the Bureau contributing to this goal?

Jennifer: The FCC has long had a role in promoting a competitive and healthy satellite industry. Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s creation of the Space Bureau brings a focus on all of the multifaceted issues of space-based services. Across the Bureau, we are working to update our rules, increase staff, and build a faster, and more transparent satellite licensing process.

Towards this end, we have increased staff; onboarding talented engineers like Whitney, as well as other experts, to better position us to advance the Space Innovation Agenda. We’ve worked to foster the efficient use of scarce spectrum and orbital resources by promoting new spectrum sharing opportunities. And last fall, the Commission adopted the Space Bureau’s recommendations to streamline rules to expedite the processing of new satellite and earth station applications.

Safe and responsible use of space goes hand-in-hand with promoting space innovation. The FCC was forward-thinking when it developed rules to mitigate orbital debris in 2004 and again just a few years ago when it updated the rules to address an influx of applications with proposals for thousands of satellites. And again last year by requiring satellite operators in low-Earth orbit to dispose of their satellites within five years of completing their missions. The FCC is serious about orbital debris and space sustainability. In fact, we took our first space debris enforcement action in October 2023.

Satellite networks have become essential for improving access to information, education, health and other vital services, not to mention disaster recovery. The bureau will continue to collaborate with other government agencies, international organizations and commercial satellite stakeholders to ensure space sustainability to allow growth for space-based services.

TMC: You’ve been at the FCC for the majority of your career; what has kept you motivated and staying on top of your game?

Jennifer: Quite simply, the issues and the people. My first project as a new attorney – too many years ago – related to an authorization for a global low-earth orbit constellation proposing 66 satellites. At the time, this proposal was a really big deal. After that project, I was hooked on spectrum issues and satellite work. Today, as Julie noted, the Bureau receives applications for new and novel spaced-based services including constellations comprised of thousands of satellites across different frequency bands. On a daily basis, the team meets with industry innovators with business plans supporting space-based solutions to solve connectivity issues, aid in disaster assistance and clean-up space debris. The work constantly challenges me. I’ve also had the great fortune to work with smart and hard-working colleagues from a variety of disciplines.

Jennifer Gilsenan current serves as Deputy Chief of the FCC’s Space Bureau. Jennifer has worked on satellite and spectrum regulatory issues at the FCC for over two decades. She most recently served as Assistant Chief of the former International Bureau focusing on satellite licensing and rulemakings. She also held several other leadership positions within the International Bureau, including Deputy Chief, of the Strategic Analysis and Negotiations Division, where she managed bilateral spectrum negotiations, as well as serving as Associate Chief of the Satellite Division and Chief of the Satellite Policy Branch in the Satellite Division. She earned her law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law, and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware.

Dr Whitney Lohmeyer, Chief Technologist, Space Bureau

TMC: The space sector is often considered to be a very male dominated one. It is also assumed to require a STEM education and career path, which may potentially discourage younger women from other educational backgrounds from seeking a career in space. As the Bureau’s Chief Technologist, how important do you think a STEM background is for women working in the space tech area? Or are there other educational backgrounds and skills that are also needed, and if so, how?

Whitney: Space is an inherently multidisciplinary field, which requires expertise in a diverse set of backgrounds. I personally chose to pursue an education and career in STEM, because I enjoyed science and math and wanted to use these skills to help improve the world. When I entered industry, working to start what is now OneWeb, I quickly realized that having technical skills was important, but that the system would never connect individuals if we didn’t also have team-members working in policy, finance, business and marketing also at the table. I often say that the technical aspects of the space sector are challenging but are limited ultimately to the laws of physics. Whereas the regulatory and strategy worlds are more like a unique game of chess, where at any point the rules of the game (the rules of the ITU or FCC Regulations) can be reviewed and rewritten.

Looking back on my career, my degrees in engineering have provided me with a framework for analysing technical and non- technical problems systematically and building confidence in other sectors of the field like spectrum regulations and international coordination. If I had to do it all over, I would still choose engineering! But that’s just me – If you love space, and you’re not keen to study STEM, there are many other roads to our industry! Just don’t give up.

TMC: How important do you think role models and mentors are for women in the space and broader digital tech sectors? Did you/do you have a role model for your inspiration? Do you have a mentor, or are you a mentor to others?

Whitney: Community and support are imperative for women and for everyone in space and in the broader digital tech sector. I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked alongside and worked for numerous female leaders. At the same time, I have also been the only woman in many rooms, which can feel isolating if you let it. I’d like to shift the focus from mentorship to community. On occasion, I have heard students and individuals early in their careers ask, “how do I find a mentor?” or “will you be my mentor?”. Rather than searching for an individual, I like to challenge folks to build a diverse community around them. Identify individuals who have interesting career paths, or who are currently in positions you strive to one day hold, and genuinely get to know them. Ask them about their approach, not in hopes of them one day mentoring you, but out of kindness and curiosity.

Often times, women don’t support other women. I particularly see this in STEM. Whether it’s through mentorship, or collegiality, we must all come together and change this. We are not in competition, but instead are members of one of the most exciting and impactful industries.

Whitney Lohmeyer is currently serving as the Chief Technologist of the FCC’s Space Bureau. She is on leave from her role as faculty at Olin College of Engineering and as a Research Affiliate at MIT. Whitney is passionate about higher education and enabling affordable Internet to empower individuals, and connect schools and healthcare centers. She has advised more than thirty companies on wireless system design and spectrum strategy. Whitney was the first engineer hired at OneWeb, where she worked with Qualcomm, actively contributed to policy reform at the FCC and ITU, and served on the US Delegation to the 2015 World Radio Conference. Whitney received her Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT in 2015, and her M.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT in 2013, and her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from NC State University in 2011.

Merissa Velez, Chief, Satellite Programs and Policy Division, Space Bureau

TMC: The satellite industry is undergoing fundamental change in terms of the roles of public and private actors, as well as the economics of the industry. How do you see the balance of these roles and interests developing over the next 5 or 10 years or so, and how regulation may need to evolve?

Merissa: The private sector is increasingly conducting the types of missions that used to be solely conducted by government actors, and this private sector activity shows no signs of slowing down. At the same time, regulatory frameworks are evolving to accommodate new types of missions and objectives, and work continues to ensure that these types of missions can be conducted successfully and sustainably. A key challenge is providing certainty around the regulatory environment, so that private actors know what to expect from the process, while the process remains nimble enough to accommodate new types of missions and address the unique issues that can and will arise in the context of those missions.

As one example, private actors are heavily involved in new demonstrations and plans for future mission categories like in-space, servicing, assembly, and manufacturing, and I think we’re likely to see more and more missions in this category in the next five or ten years. Missions of these types can have some challenges from a regulatory perspective, but also have great potential for benefits to the space environment – like the potential for active debris removal. I am also interested to see the extent to which private actors become more involved in scientific missions beyond Earth’s orbit, to the moon and beyond.

TMC: What do you see as the main social and economic benefits of new age satellites to digital empowerment, education, healthcare, agriculture, etc?

Merissa: I think in many ways the “new space age” is building on the foundations of legacy space systems in terms of bringing important services to the public. Services like remote sensing, position, navigation, and timing, emergency communications, and provision of internet connections to remote areas have long been conducted using satellites.

One exciting aspect of “new space” is how the existing foundations of traditional satellites and satellite systems are being built upon to develop creative solutions to 21st century concerns. For example, if you look at food production, there are new and increasingly innovative ways in which satellite operators are leveraging existing systems as well as launching new satellites and systems in order to do things like improve precision in farming, remotely monitor agricultural land, and effectively track cargo shipments, among other things. And this is just scratching the surface of the applications of satellite systems. The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has interesting information on, for example, how space can be used in support of sustainable development goals.

I think the public in general is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of space services and the unique advantages that satellites have from a technological standpoint, including the provision of broadband service to underserved or unserved areas, and the use of satellites for communications in the aftermath of natural disasters, for example. That being said, I think there’s room for more information and messaging on the innovative and critical ways in which space-based services are used. The critical nature of many of these services also underscores the importance of ensuring that issues like debris mitigation continue to be part of the conversation when it comes to “new space,” to ensure the continued availability of space services.

Merissa Velez is Chief of the Satellite Programs and Policy Division. In this role, Merissa oversees a team focusing on legal and policy issues associated with the licensing and regulation of satellite systems. Merissa has focused on satellite regulatory issues at the FCC for almost ten years, and was most recently the Chief of the Satellite Policy Branch in the International Bureau’s Satellite Division. Prior to joining the FCC, Merissa clerked for the Supreme Court of Hawaii and worked in the publishing industry. Merissa is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School and Middlebury College.

Jeanette Kennedy, Associate Chief, Space Bureau

TMC: You have worked both in the private sector, and now in government policy and regulation. How important do you think it is for policymakers to understand the drivers of the digital technology sector and the digital economy? Are there areas where each side could learn from the other, and if so, how is the Bureau promoting greater consultation and collaboration?

Jeanette: The short answer is: It is critical that regulators understand the technologies and business models that we cover so there are better outcomes for consumers and society as a whole. That said, the private sector should view government as a partner toward growth and progress. As Julie mentioned, the FCC and particularly the Space Bureau, is enabling a competitive and innovative space marketplace by leading policy and licensing matters. It should be the responsibility of all sides to understand and consult with each other so that our frameworks move us forward and reduce unintended consequences. Our roles are not always inherently in conflict with the other; and I hope that both private sector and government would not approach items with this attitude.

Under Julie’s leadership we are making additional efforts to better connect with companies and their technologies and operations. This should help us all build trust and strive for the highest standards.

TMC: Would you encourage people to pursue a career in digital tech, and in space tech/policy in particular? If so, how can we work to encourage a welcoming DE&I environment and culture for them, so that these skills are retained in the industry for the future?

Jeanette: Whitney talked about building a community and supporting each other through our respective journeys. I want to +1 (or is that +2?) on those sentiments. When I was going to school I loved tech but thought that since I wasn’t in STEM those careers were closed to me. I would say, follow your interests and let your (healthy) curiosity drive you since there are so many roles that use a variety of skillsets. Be open to change and continuous learning since all your experiences contribute to your capabilities and what you have to offer.

TMC: Thank you all from everyone at the GTWN and all our colleagues, for your candid responses, for sharing the benefit of your experience, and for your continued work to promote the role and contribution of women in the space sector.

Jeanette Kennedy joins the FCC as Associate Chief of the Bureau. Jeanette brings experience and knowledge in tech policy from representing technology companies, equipment manufacturers, and service providers, on issues including technical regulation and standardization, trade policy, spectrum management, public safety communications, and innovation. She has also previously served at the First Responder Network Authority. Jeanette received her Master of Arts Degree from American University, and her undergraduate degree from the University of Puget Sound.

Kearney earned her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and a J.D. from Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law with a certificate from its Law and Technology Institute. She recently completed a 3.5 year term on the Columbus School of Law’s Board of Visitors. A trained singer, she has sung with choruses in the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, DC area, most recently with Schola Cantorum (CA) and the Choral Arts Society of Washington (DC).