US authorities said they have imposed a space debris penalty for the first time ever, fining a TV company $150,000 for failing to properly dispose of a satellite.
On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attacked Dish for “failure to properly deorbit” a satellite called EchoStar-7, which has been orbiting the Earth since 2002.
“This is a first in space debris enforcement by the Commission, which has stepped up its efforts on satellite policy,” the FCC, which authorizes space-based telecom services, said in a statement.
As the geostationary satellite neared the end of its operational life, Dish had moved it to a lower altitude than the two sides agreed to, where it “could raise orbital debris concerns,” the FCC said.
The commission said that Dish, a U.S. satellite television provider, promised in 2012 to elevate the satellite to 300 kilometers (190 miles) above its operational arc.
But running low on fuel, the satellite was put out of action at an altitude just over 75 miles above its original arc.
“As satellite operations become more common and the space economy accelerates, we must be sure operators are meeting their obligations,” said Loyaan Egal, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau.
“This is a groundbreaking settlement that makes it very clear that the FCC has strong enforcement power and the ability to enforce its critically important space debris rules.”
The FCC said the settlement “includes an admission of liability by the company and an agreement to adhere to a compliance plan and pay a $150,000 penalty.”
In a statement Tuesday, Dish appeared to contradict the FCC on the removal requirements, arguing that the commission’s enforcement division “made no specific findings that EchoStar-7 poses any safety risks to orbital debris.”
“As the Enforcement Bureau acknowledges in the settlement, the EchoStar-7 satellite was an older spacecraft that was explicitly exempt from the FCC’s rule requiring a minimum removal orbit,” a Dish spokesperson said in a statement.
“DISH has a long track record of safely operating a large satellite fleet and takes its responsibilities as an FCC licensee seriously.”
The US aviation regulator FAA recently announced its intention to reduce space debris by requiring private companies to remove the upper stages of rocket launch vehicles by, for example, returning them to Earth’s atmosphere or moving them to a less congested ‘graveyard orbit’ . .”
The new regulation, which has yet to be finally adopted, already exists for government space missions.
“If left unchecked, the buildup of orbital debris will increase the risk of collisions and cluttered orbits used for human spaceflight and for satellites,” the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The European Space Agency estimates that about a million pieces of debris larger than a centimeter – large enough to “disable a spacecraft” – are in Earth’s orbit.
They’re already causing problems, from a near miss last January involving a Chinese satellite to a five-millimeter hole in an International Space Station robotic arm in 2021.
With satellites crucial for GPS, broadband and banking data, collisions pose significant risks on Earth.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)