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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Board on Physics and Astronomy
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

A Survey of the Scientific Uses of the Radio Spectrum



Spectrum Management for Science in the 21st Century

Released February 2010

Radio observations of the cosmos are gathered by geoscientists using complex earth-orbiting satellites and ground-based equipment, and by radio astronomers using large ground-based radio telescopes. Signals from natural radio emissions are extremely weak, and the equipment used to measure them is becoming ever-more sophisticated and sensitive.

The radio spectrum is also being used by radiating, or "active," services, ranging from aircraft radars to rapidly expanding consumer services such as cellular telephones and wireless internet. These valuable active services transmit radio waves and thereby potentially interfere with the receive-only, or "passive," scientific services. Transmitters for the active services create an artificial "electronic fog" which can cause confusion, and, in severe cases, totally blinds the passive receivers.

Both the active and the passive services are increasing their use of the spectrum, and so the potential for interference, already strong, is also increasing. This book addresses the tension between the active services' demand for greater spectrum use and the passive users' need for quiet spectrum. The included recommendations provide a pathway for putting in place the regulatory mechanisms and associated supporting research activities necessary to meet the demands of both users.

Committee Members and NRC Staff

Marshall H. Cohen, Co-chair, California Institute of Technology
Albin J. Gasiewski, Co-chair, University of Colorado at Boulder
Donald Backer, University of California, Berkeley
Roberta Balstad, Columbia University
Steven W. Ellingson, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
Darrel Emerson, National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Aaron S. Evans, Stony Brook University
Joel Johnson, The Ohio State University
Paul Kolodzy, Kolodzy Consulting, LLC
David Kunkee, The Aerospace Corporation
Molly K. Macauley, Resources for the Future, Inc.
James M. Moran, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Lee G. Mundy, University of Maryland at College Park
Timothy J. Pearson, California Institute of Technology
Christopher Ruf, University of Michigan
Frederick S. Solheim, Radiometrics Corporation
David H. Staelin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Alan B. Tanner, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NRC Staff

Don Shapero, Director, BPA
Brian Dewhurst, Program Officer, ASEB
David Lang, Program Officer, BPA

The committee is pleased to acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Commerce, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.