The FCC has imposed a $150,000 fine on Dish Network for its failure to appropriately dispose of a defunct satellite after its mission ended. This penalty marks the agency’s initial action in addressing the issue of space debris in low Earth orbit (LEO). Decommissioned satellites and other objects pose a significant collision risk for instruments operating at lower altitudes.
In LEO, debris travels at high speeds, making even small fragments a potential threat. Dish and the FCC had a planned deorbiting strategy for the EchoStar-7 satellite, which was launched in 2002 and intended to retire in May 2022. However, the satellite’s fuel ran out earlier than expected. Dish was supposed to maneuver the satellite into a designated graveyard orbit, about 186 miles above its operational position. Unfortunately, EchoStar-7 only reached approximately 76 miles before it was abandoned.
This penalty is seen as a significant step forward by the FCC, as Dish admitted fault and agreed to pay the fine. Although the fine of $150,000 is relatively minor, it may serve as a warning amidst the increasing number of commercial satellites being launched into LEO. As of last year, there was already nearly 10,000 tons of space debris in orbit around Earth. With companies like SpaceX planning to deploy thousands more satellites, the issue of space clutter continues to intensify.