Home Business FCC Penalizes Dish for Space Debris: A Historic Fine

FCC Penalizes Dish for Space Debris: A Historic Fine

FCC Penalizes Dish for Space Debris: A Historic Fine

Satellite television company Dish Network has been fined $150,000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for improperly disposing of one of its satellites. This fine marks the first time that federal regulators have issued such a penalty for satellite disposal. The FCC settled an investigation into Dish, resulting in the fine and an admission of liability from the company. Dish responded to the fine by stating that the satellite in question was an older spacecraft exempted from the FCC’s rule requiring proper disposal, and that it does not pose any safety concerns in terms of orbital debris. The FCC’s enforcement of space debris regulations signals an increased focus on the issue.

The FCC’s investigation into Dish centered around the satellite EchoStar-7, launched to geostationary orbit in 2002. The FCC had approved a decommissioning plan in 2012 to retire the satellite at a safe distance from active satellites. However, Dish did not leave enough fuel on board the satellite to execute the maneuver, resulting in EchoStar-7 being left dead in an orbit that is only 76 miles above active areas in geostationary orbit. This improper disposal of satellites contributes to the growing issue of space debris, which poses a risk of colliding with active satellites and exacerbating the risk of in-space collisions. The FCC’s fine serves as a reminder to satellite operators of the importance of complying with post-mission disposal requirements in order to mitigate this risk.

The issue of space debris is becoming increasingly pressing, with an estimated 700,000 pieces of uncontrolled garbage larger than 0.4 inch in Earth’s orbit. These objects pose a threat to active satellites, the International Space Station, and other pieces of debris. For a long time, the satellite industry had largely self-regulated its compliance with debris mitigation recommendations. However, the FCC’s recent enforcement actions indicate a shift towards stricter regulation and oversight. While geostationary orbit is located above the problematic area of low-Earth orbit where most space debris is found, it remains home to large and expensive telecommunications satellites.

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