US television provider DISH is facing a $150,000 penalty from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after incorrectly disposing of one of its satellites. The satellite in question, EchoStar-7, had been launched in 2002 and had spent the last two decades in geostationary orbit, transmitting content to US receivers.
In 2012, as EchoStar-7 approached the end of its operational life, DISH submitted an orbital debris mitigation plan to the FCC. The plan outlined the intention to raise the satellite’s orbit by 300km, sending it into a graveyard orbit.
Instead, DISH discovered in February 2022 that the satellite did not have enough propellant to reach the intended orbit. As a result, EchoStar-7 was dumped at a distance of 122km above the geostationary arc, less than half the planned distance.
The FCC implemented an enforcement action against DISH, resulting in a $150,000 penalty. The agency expressed concerns about the possibility of orbital debris resulting from EchoStar-7 being retired to a lower orbit.
DISH acknowledged its liability in the matter and agreed to comply with a plan to rectify the error. Loyaan A Egal, Chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, emphasized the importance of operators adhering to their commitments and commended the breakthrough settlement for demonstrating the FCC’s capacity to enforce space debris rules.
In response, a DISH spokesperson stated that EchoStar-7, being an older spacecraft exempt from certain FCC disposal orbit rules, posed no specific orbital debris concerns. The spokesperson also highlighted DISH’s track record of safely managing its satellite fleet and commitment to its responsibilities as an FCC licensee.
While the penalty itself may not have a major financial impact on DISH, the FCC’s strong stance on space debris is significant. It underscores the need to prevent further risks associated with orbital debris, even though current debris issues remain unresolved.