Home Business FCC Fines Dish for Space Debris, First-of-its-kind Penalty

FCC Fines Dish for Space Debris, First-of-its-kind Penalty

FCC Fines Dish for Space Debris, First-of-its-kind Penalty

Satellite television company Dish Network has been fined $150,000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for improper disposal of one of its satellites. This is the first time that federal regulators have issued such a penalty. The FCC, which authorizes space-based telecom services, settled an investigation into Dish, resulting in the fine and an admission of liability from the company. Dish argued that the satellite in question, launched in 2002, was exempt from the FCC’s rule requiring proper disposal.

Space debris is a growing concern for satellite operators, with an estimated 700,000 pieces of uncontrolled garbage larger than 0.4 inches orbiting Earth. These objects pose a collision risk to active satellites and the International Space Station, exacerbating the dangers of in-space collisions. Until recently, the satellite industry has been largely self-regulated in terms of debris mitigation recommendations. The FCC’s investigation into Dish focused on a satellite called EchoStar-7, launched in 2002. Dish failed to leave enough fuel on board the satellite for its planned retirement, leaving it in a lower than intended orbit.

The FCC’s fine highlights the importance of satellite licensees meeting post-mission disposal requirements to ensure the safety of terrestrial and space-based communication systems. While geostationary orbit, where Dish’s satellites are located, is higher than low-Earth orbit where most space debris is found, it still houses large and expensive telecommunications satellites. The fine serves as a warning to satellite companies to properly dispose of retired satellites to avoid adding to the growing problem of space debris.

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