Fine for Space Debris

US imparts fine for Space Debris on Dish Network

The first-ever fine for Space debris in Earth’s orbit imposed on a company by the US government, this fine was basically for leaving the debris in space.

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Fine for Space Debris

Dish Network has been fined $150,000 (£125,000) by the Federal Communications Commission for failing to relocate an outdated satellite far enough away from active ones.

The firm has acknowledged responsibility for its EchoStar-7 satellite and has agreed to a “compliance plan” with the FCC.

EchoStar 3, 4, 7 - Gunter's Space Page
EchoStar-7 satellite

Space debris consists of outdated technological fragments that orbit Earth but are no longer operational, posing collision risks.

Formally referred to as space debris, it includes defunct satellites and spacecraft components.

The FCC noted that Dish’s satellite represented a potential hazard to other satellites at its current altitude in Earth’s geostationary orbit, which starts at 22,000 miles (36,000km) above the Earth’s surface.

Dish was required to move the satellite 186 miles farther from Earth, but by the end of its operational life in 2022, it had moved it only 76 miles after running out of fuel resulting in fine for space debris which has to be bared by the company.

Loyaan Egal, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, stated, “As satellite operations become more prevalent and the space economy accelerates, we must be certain that operators comply with their commitments.”

“This is a groundbreaking settlement, making it very clear that the FCC possesses strong enforcement authority and the capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules”, and the implementation on these rules made them charge a first ever fine for space debris.

The $150,000 fine for space debris constitutes a small fraction of Dish’s total revenue, which amounted to $16.7 billion in 2022.

Nonetheless, the penalty may still impact other satellite operators, according to Dr. Megan Argo, senior lecturer in astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire.

Megan Argo - Academic Staff - UCLan
Dr. Megan Argo

“The fact that they’ve actually exercised their regulatory powers for the first time is certainly likely to at least make the rest of the industry sit up and pay attention,” Dr. Argo said.

“The fact that they have used it once means that they are likely to use it again.”

“The more objects we have in orbit, the greater the risk of collisions, resulting in high-speed debris,” she added. “This debris could potentially collide with other satellites, generating more debris and potentially triggering a cascade effect.”

It is estimated that more than 10,000 satellites have been launched into space since the first one in 1957, with over half of them now defunct.

According to NASA, there are more than 25,000 pieces of space debris measuring over 10cm long.

“Even a paint chip… coming in the wrong direction at orbital speed, which is 17,500 miles an hour, could strike an astronaut during a spacewalk. That can be fatal,” explained a NASA spokesperson.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Has a satellite ever been hit by space debris?

Credit: Fortunately, collisions are rare: a Chinese satellite broke up in March 2021 after a collision. Before that, the last satellite to collide and be destroyed by space junk was in 2009. And when it comes to exploring beyond Earth’s orbit, none of the limited amount of space junk out there poses a problem.

  • How much satellite debris is in space?

How much orbital debris is currently in Earth orbit? More than 25,000 objects larger than 10 cm are known to exist. The estimated population of particles between 1 and 10 cm in diameter is approximately 500,000. The number of particles larger than 1 mm exceeds 100 million.

  • What is the space debris rule?

The treaty requires that States Parties return any “foreign” space objects discovered in their territory to their owners and that they notify the Secretary-General of any such discovered objects.

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