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Satellite TV company Dish Network was fined $150,000 for failing to properly dispose of one of its satellites, the first time federal regulators have issued such a penalty.
The Federal Communications Commission, which allows satellite communications services, announced Monday that it had settled its investigation into Dish, resulting in a fine and an “admission of liability” from the company.
“This represents the first space debris enforcement order by the Commission, which has ramped up its efforts in the area of satellite policy,” the FCC said in a press release.
Dish responded in a statement, saying the satellite in question is “an older spacecraft (launched in 2002) that has been expressly exempt from the FCC rule requiring a minimum jettison orbit.”
Dish also said the FCC had made no claims that the satellite “poses any orbital debris safety concerns,” and said the company has a “proven track record of safely flying a large fleet of satellites and takes its responsibilities seriously as a licensee of Federal Communications Commission.
Space debris has become an increasingly pressing issue for satellite operators. It is estimated that there are approximately 700000pcs of uncontrolled garbage larger than 0.4 inch (1 cm) in Earth orbit.
The objects can pose a risk of collisions with active satellites, the International Space Station, or other pieces of debris, further exacerbating the risk of collisions in space. And the, Until nowthe satellite industry has been largely left to regulate its compliance with the most stringent debris mitigation recommendations.
The FCC’s investigation into Dish centered on a satellite called EchoStar-7. It was launched into geostationary orbit — a space domain that begins about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth — in 2002.
The FCC approved a decommissioning plan in 2012 to ensure the satellite would be retired about 186 miles (300 kilometers) above its operating range — putting the defunct satellite in a graveyard orbit where it would not pose a risk to other active satellites.
But according to the FCC, Dish did not leave enough fuel on board the satellite to make this maneuver possible. Instead EchoStar-7 was left dead in orbit only about 76 miles (122 kilometers) above the active regions of geostationary orbit.
“Orbital debris in space puts the nation’s terrestrial and space communications systems at risk by increasing the risk of damage to satellite communications systems,” according to the FCC. Consent decree. “It is therefore important for the Commission to ensure that satellite licensors meet post-mission disposal requirements in a manner consistent with their licences.”
Geostationary orbit is located much higher than low Earth orbit, the region of space that houses the International Space Station and thousands of small satellites including SpaceX’s Starlink network, as well as most of the problematic space debris. But geostationary orbit remains home to large, expensive communications satellites, such as those operated by Dish, Intelsat, SES and Viasat.
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