With the revival of the space race back in full force, a growing amount of space debris is orbiting our planet. The Federal Communications Commission is taking action against companies who don’t pick up after themselves, starting with DISH.
Today, the FCC fined DISH $150,000 after the company failed to properly deorbit its EchoStar-7 satellite launched in 2002. DISH was unable to follow through on an orbital mitigation plan it filed in 2012, which would conclude the satellite’s mission at 300 kilometers above its “operational geostationary arc.” DISH estimated the satellite’s end-of-mission deorbit maneuvers would begin in May of last year.
However, in February, DISH realized the satellite didn’t have enough propellant left to follow the original plan. The company retired the satellite at an orbit of 122 km above the geostationary arc, violating its original debris disposal plan approved by the FCC.
The company is required to make an admission of liability and adhere to a compliance plan laid out by the commission.
“As the Enforcement Bureau recognizes in the settlement, the EchoStar-7 satellite was an older spacecraft (launched in 2002) that had been explicitly exempted from the FCC’s rule requiring a minimum disposal orbit,” said a spokesperson for DISH. “Moreover, the Bureau made no specific findings that EchoStar-7 poses any orbital debris safety concerns. DISH has a long track record of safely flying a large satellite fleet and takes seriously its responsibilities as an FCC licensee.”
Space trash is an increasingly serious issue as companies deploy more low-Earth orbit satellites to power internet access. Debris can hinder other satellites or affect the safety of crewed missions.
The FCC’s Space Bureau and Space Innovation Agenda said they are committed to preserving Low Earth Orbit.
“As satellite operations become more prevalent and the space economy accelerates, we must be certain that operators comply with their commitments,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan A. Egal. “This is a breakthrough settlement, making very clear the FCC has strong enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules.”
The FCC prohibits using and operating any device to transmit energy, communications, or signals without authorization to prevent interference in satellite operations. The rules also help the FCC to coordinate and evaluate operations while decreasing the amount of space debris orbiting Earth. Companies launching anything into space must outline a plan to dispose of space waste after completing missions.