US Issues First Ever Fine For Leaving Debris In Space To Dish Network
WASHINGTON, DC (IANS) – The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has for the first time issued a fine to Dish Network for leaving junk in space.
The penalty of $150,000 announced by FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is based on its investigation into Dish for failure to properly deorbit its EchoStar-7 satellite launched in 2002.
Space debris — artificial objects orbiting Earth that are not functional spacecraft — are a growing concern to satellites and is also known to pose a hazard to the ISS, which has had run-ins with debris in the recent past.
To curb them, the FCC in 2022 adopted a rule that would require satellite operators to dispose of their satellites within five years of mission completion.
The agency found that the Dish violated the Communications Act, the FCC rules, and the terms of the company’s license by relocating its direct broadcast satellite (“DBS”) service EchoStar-7 satellite at the satellite’s end-of-mission to a disposal orbit well below the elevation required by the terms of its license.
This marks a first in space debris enforcement by the Commission, which has stepped up its satellite policy efforts, including establishing the Space Bureau and implementing its Space Innovation Agenda.
“This is a breakthrough settlement, making very clear the FCC has strong enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan A. Egal, in a statement.
The Dish’s orbital debris mitigation plan was approved by the FCC in 2012.
Later, it estimated that based on the remaining fuel and projected operational parameters, the satellite’s end-of-mission deorbit maneuvers would take place in May 2022.
It committed to bringing the satellite at the end of its mission to an altitude of 300 kilometers (km) above its operational geostationary arc.
However, in February 2022, Dish determined that the satellite had very little propellant left, which meant it could not follow the original orbital debris mitigation plan in its license.
Dish ultimately retired the satellite at a disposal orbit approximately 122 km above the geostationary arc, well short of the disposal orbit of 300 km specified in its orbital debris mitigation plan.
At this lower altitude, it could pose orbital debris concerns. “As satellite operations become more prevalent and the space economy accelerates, we must be certain that operators comply with their commitments,” Egal said.