World's First Fine for Improper Satellite "Parking" Issued in the USA
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that it has imposed a fine of $150,000 on Dish Network for a satellite that was left in the wrong place in orbit, potentially contributing to the increase in space debris. According to the FCC, this marks the first instance in which they have taken such actions regarding human-made objects left in space, as reported by Business Insider.
Dish reached an agreement with the FCC and acknowledged responsibility for improper disposal of its satellite, EchoStar-7, launched in 2002, which was left in a "junk" orbit significantly lower than the required altitude.
In its statement, the FCC noted that Dish left the retired satellite in a "disposal orbit significantly below the required altitude." According to the plan approved by the FCC in 2012, Dish was obligated to move the satellite to a height approximately 300 kilometers above its operational geostationary orbit after completing its mission. However, in 2022, realizing that the satellite was running out of fuel and unable to reach the required height, Dish only moved it to 122 kilometers above its operational orbit. The FCC stated that the lower disposal orbit could raise concerns about space debris.
"Orbital debris in space poses a threat to both terrestrial and space communication systems, increasing the risk of their damage," the FCC said in its statement.
However, a Dish representative noted that no specific conclusions were drawn by officials regarding whether EchoStar-7 posed any threat to the safety of other objects in orbit. "DISH has a long history of safely managing a large fleet of satellites and takes its responsibilities as an FCC licensee seriously," the company stated.
As more companies send objects into space, concerns are growing about the increasing amount of space debris in Earth's orbit. As a result, NASA recently signed an $850,000 contract with TransAstra to work on the possibility of clearing space debris using a large "capture bag" called Flytrap.
"Space debris is one of the biggest hazards that astronauts encounter in low Earth orbit today," said Joel Sercel, a former astronaut and founder of TransAstra, in a previous interview with Business Insider. Although space debris has not yet caused harm to humans, the likelihood of such incidents increases as the amount of debris in orbit grows.