US-based satellite provider Dish Network has been fined $150,000 by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for failing to clear its space debris. The FCC found that Dish had not properly de-orbited its EchoStar-7 satellite, which had been decommissioned after more than 20 years in orbit. Instead of bringing the satellite to the required altitude, Dish directed it into a lower “disposal orbit” that posed concerns of orbital debris. This marks the first-ever fine of its kind for a company failing to clear its space junk.
Regulators have introduced rules in recent years to address the growing concern of space debris as more companies launch satellites into high and low-Earth orbits. The FCC stressed the importance of satellite operators complying with their commitments as the space economy continues to accelerate. The fine against Dish demonstrates the powerful enforcement authority of the FCC in regards to space debris rules.
Dish received approval for its “orbital debris mitigation plan” in 2012, which committed the company to bringing the satellite to an altitude of 300km at the end of its mission. However, in 2022, Dish determined that the satellite did not have enough remaining propellant to follow the original plan. As a result, the satellite was retired at a disposal orbit of approximately 122km above the geostationary arc, falling well short of the 300km specified in the plan.
Last year, the FCC implemented new rules mandating satellite operators in low-Earth orbit to dispose of their satellites within five years of completing their missions. This was a significant reduction from the previous guideline of 25 years for deorbiting satellites post-mission.
Following the announcement of the fine, shares of Dish fell 6.7% to $5.22.