The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a $150,000 fine against Dish Network for failing to properly dispose of its broadcast communications satellite, leading to an increase in orbital debris.
As part of its ongoing efforts to tackle the growing problem of space junk, the FCC penalized the broadcast satellite provider for failing to properly deorbit its EchoStar-7 satellite. “This is a breakthrough settlement, making very clear the FCC has strong enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan Egal said in an emailed statement.
According to its orbital debris mitigation plan, Dish was supposed to bring down its EchoStar-7 satellite to an altitude of around 186 miles (300 kilometers) above its operational geostationary orbit. From there, the company estimated that the satellite’s end-of-mission deorbit maneuvers would take place in May 2022 based on its remaining fuel.
In February 2022, however, Dish determined that the satellite had very little propellant left and it could therefore not follow the original orbital debris mitigation plan outlined in the satellite’s license. As a result, the company retired the satellite at a disposal orbit that’s approximately 75 miles (122 kilometers) above the geostationary arc instead, according to the FCC. At this lower altitude, the defunct satellite could pose concerns as a floating piece of space junk.
Related article: Know Your Orbits: Where We Keep Our Most Important Stuff in Space
“As satellite operations become more prevalent and the space economy accelerates, we must be certain that operators comply with their commitments,” Egal said. There are currently 34,580 debris objects being tracked by the Space Surveillance Networks with thousands of smaller pieces floating around, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
The FCC licenses radio frequencies used by satellites and ensures that satellite operators properly handle their defunct satellite debris. Earlier this year, the FCC established a Space Bureau in order to keep up with the growing satellite industry and allocate more resources towards its regulation.
The FCC’s recent fine on Dish Network should serve as a big wake-up call to satellite providers when it comes to their actions—or inactions—in space. This news is quite encouraging—it’s a sign that the FCC means business when it comes to keeping space clean and that it has the teeth to enforce its rules. As more companies get into the space game, it’s super important that they play by the rules to avoid turning space into a cluttered mess.
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