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Director of regulatory market access for Europe brings an engineering background to his role at E-Space

Work in the space industry can include many disciplines, from the various engineering roles associated with spacecraft design to the communications expertise needed for transmitting data from Earth to space and back.

For Ethan Lavan, although he started out in engineering after graduating from CalTech, his work has evolved over the years to a full-time job on the regulatory side of the table. Now director of regulatory market access in Europe for E-Space, Ethan has worked for some of the biggest names in the space industry: Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL), Alcatel Espace (now part of Thales), Eutelsat and Inmarsat. Based in Paris for the past several decades, the Chicago native has become part of a relatively small community of regulators and industry representatives focused on the complexities of spectrum allocation, orbital resources, landing rights and other aspects of access for satellite communications.

In November, Ethan and the E-Space regulatory team will spend about a month in Dubai for the World Radio Conference (WRC-23) — a series of meetings to review and revise the international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the geostationary-satellite and non-geostationary-satellite orbits.

The goal for E-Space and most other satellite operators in attendance, Ethan says, is to ensure that existing and proposed regulations are fair and workable across the industry.

“You can’t really have market access until you have the regulatory guidelines in place, and you can’t have that unless you have the frequencies,” he says. “For the E-Space regulatory team, we’re focused on establishing proper orbital resources and building the company’s presence as a global space operator. Like many companies that will attend WRC-23, we will advocate for unbiased and consistent regulatory access for specific frequencies, internationally.”

Road to E-Space

For the kinds of discussions the regulatory team is involved in, technical and governmental experience in the space sector is of critical importance. Ethan comes to his role at E-Space with a wealth of knowledge accumulated over many years in the space industry. His first job out of college was working at JPL on interplanetary space missions — with one project focused on mapping the surface of Venus with radar.  

Next, he spent time at Alcatel in Toulouse, France, working on avionics for the European part of the International Space Station. It was here that Ethan truly began to learn about the European space industry. That led to another job at Alcatel working on space research projects within the European Commission.

“I spent a lot of time in Brussels and across Europe trying to help build European cooperation, both technologically and industrially,” he says. “It was challenging because you have to build consortiums with 10 or 12 countries alongside academia and other players.”

Moving early on to commercial satellite projects providing broadband connectivity, Ethan was part of a push to enact European standards to allow greater interoperability between systems from different manufacturers and countries.

“I was working with European standards institutions like ETSI to find a way forward to comply with regulations that didn’t divulge any intellectual property and complete specifications. It was a success on a number of fronts, with one example being the agreement that ethernet would be the standard interface for the end-user terminal.”

Now at E-Space, Ethan sees a different type of exciting opportunity.

“At E-Space, we’re doing novel things in space — activities that companies haven’t thought of yet. We have an opportunity to work with regulators and industry to re-define existing rules or look at new ways of applying those rules.”

Compared to his previous positions with large companies, Ethan says his work at E-Space has been a refreshing change.

“At larger operators, where there are hundreds or thousands of team members, you often get silo-ed and miss the opportunity to be hands-on in the process. I joined E-Space because it afforded me the ability to own a process from start to finish. It’s fulfilling, and to be honest, it’s exciting to be part of a startup team that is driving step-change innovation with the potential to significantly enhance the future of space.”

Alex Miller

Alex Miller leads editorial at E-Space. Based in Denver, he's a longtime journalist who's been involved with the satellite industry for over a decade.