US television provider DISH is facing a $150,000 penalty from the US Federal Communications Commission after one of its satellites was dumped into the wrong orbit at the end of its operational life.
The satellite EchoStar-7 was launched in 2002 and spent over two decades providing direct broadcast content to US receivers before reaching the end of its lifespan. DISH filed an orbital debris mitigation plan for EchoStar-7 in 2012, which called for the satellite to be raised 300km to be placed into a graveyard orbit.
However, in February 2022, DISH discovered that the satellite did not have enough propellant left to reach the required orbit. As a result, it was dumped at 122km above the geostationary arc, less than half the distance promised.
This incident has led to a first for the FCC – an enforcement action against DISH, which includes a $150,000 penalty. The FCC expressed concerns about the satellite’s lower orbit, stating that it could pose orbital debris risks. DISH has admitted liability for the issue and agreed to abide by a compliance plan.
Enforcement Bureau chief Loyaan A Egal emphasized the importance of operators complying with their commitments, stating that the settlement with DISH highlights the FCC’s enforcement authority and capability in regulating space debris rules.
DISH, in response, stated that the EchoStar-7 satellite, being an older spacecraft exempt from the FCC’s minimum disposal orbit rule, did not pose any specific orbital debris safety concerns. The company emphasized its track record of safely operating its satellite fleet and its commitment as an FCC licensee.
While the penalty may seem insignificant compared to the overall costs of satellite operations, the FCC’s stricter stance on space debris is encouraging. While it does not address existing debris issues directly, avoiding contributing to the risk is an important step.