SpaceX last week launched 10 satellites for telecommunications company Iridium into orbit. The launch was a success but, strangely, a stream of the Falcon 9 rocket was cut once it reached orbit due to government intervention, the private space company said.
According to SpaceX, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently told the company to apply for a license for its cameras equipped to the rocket. A federal law passed in 1992 requires commercial spacecraft taking images or video of Earth to have this license, but it’s an unusual demand considering SpaceX and other private space companies have already streamed footage of Earth from orbit a number of times before. Plus, the NOAA is typically preoccupied with studying the climate rather than monitoring commercial satellites. So what gives? One theory is that SpaceX’s high-profile launch of “Starman” in CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla this February could have caught the NOAA’s eye.
“Starman probably attracted so much attention that someone at NOAA or someone at SpaceX realized they may have crossed that threshold to start thinking about that license,” Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation, a nonprofit that works to develop space security, told The Verge.
NOAA says it was actually SpaceX that reached out to the agency regarding a license, according to Space News, though a SpaceX spokesperson denied this to The Verge. Fortune reached out to both the NOAA and SpaceX for clarification, but did not immediately receive a response.
Regardless, it appears livestreams from space could be put on hold for SpaceX and perhaps other companies that wish to record footage of Earth from orbit. SpaceX applied for the license four days before Friday’s launch but NOAA didn’t get to it in time — the agency says it can take up to 120 days to review applications. SpaceX’s next commercial launch is set for the end of April, so observers can see if the cameras will be turned on by then.