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 marks the first time federal regulators have issued such a penalty. The FCC settled an investigation into Dish, resulting in the fine and an “admission of liability” from the company. Dish responded by stating that the satellite in question had been exempted from the FCC’s rule requiring proper disposal. The FCC’s enforcement on space debris is part of its efforts to address the increasing problem of debris in Earth’s orbit.
Space debris is becoming a significant concern for satellite operators, with an estimated 700,000 pieces of uncontrolled garbage larger than 0.4 inch in Earth’s orbit. This poses a risk of collisions with active satellites, the International Space Station, and other debris. Historically, the satellite industry had largely been self-regulating its compliance with debris mitigation recommendations. The FCC’s investigation into Dish focused on a satellite named EchoStar-7, which was launched to geostationary orbit in 2002. Despite an approved decommissioning plan in 2012, Dish did not leave enough fuel onboard to properly retire the satellite, resulting in its placement in an orbit too close to active areas in geostationary orbit.
The FCC’s fine on Dish reflects the agency’s commitment to ensuring satellite licensees meet post-mission disposal requirements to protect terrestrial and space-based communication systems. Geostationary orbit, where the satellite was placed, is located above low-Earth orbit and is home to large telecommunications satellites. The increasing enforcement by the FCC highlights the importance of proper satellite disposal to mitigate the risks of space debris and safeguard communication infrastructure.