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The U.S. has issued its first-ever fine for space debris.


The U.S. government has imposed a fine on a satellite company, marking the first penalty for not removing space debris and leaving it to orbit uncontrollably in near-Earth space.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has fined Dish Network $150,000 for failing to move its out-of-service satellite to a safe distance from operational satellites.

Dish Network has acknowledged its responsibility and has agreed with the FCC on an action plan to bring its operational processes into compliance with established rules.

Space debris refers to fragments of objects launched into near-Earth space, left to orbit after they have reached the end of their operational life, posing a collision risk with other space objects. Often, this includes old communication satellites or remnants of spacecraft and rockets.

According to the FCC, Dish Network's EchoStar-7 satellite, which belongs to them, poses a potential threat to other satellites orbiting the Earth at the same altitude.

EchoStar-7 was launched into a geostationary orbit in 2002. This orbit is located approximately 36,000 kilometers from Earth's equator and is particularly attractive because objects in it move at the same speed as the Earth's rotation, effectively appearing stationary in the sky.

It was expected that by 2022, when the satellite reached the end of its operational life, Dish Network would move it 300 kilometers higher. However, the company was only able to shift it by 120 kilometers before EchoStar-7 ran out of fuel.

The fine imposed on the company, $120,000, is unlikely to have a significant impact on Dish Network, whose revenue for 2022 amounted to $16.7 billion.

As the space industry evolves, and satellite communications become increasingly critical, Loiyan Igal, the head of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, emphasized the importance of ensuring that operators fulfill their commitments. He said, "This groundbreaking agreement makes it abundantly clear that the FCC has significant authority to enforce rules and maintain order in this critically important area of space debris."

With more objects in orbit, the risk of collisions, leading to the creation of high-speed debris, increases. Dr. Megan Argo, a senior lecturer in astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire, explains, "They can hit other satellites, which will generate new debris and theoretically could set off a cascade effect."

Since the start of the space age in 1957, estimates suggest that over 10,000 satellites have been launched into near-Earth orbit. More than half of them are no longer in use today. According to NASA, there are over 25,000 fragments of space debris in Earth's orbit, with lengths exceeding 10 centimeters.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated in an interview with the BBC in July that space debris is a significant problem, necessitating adjustments to the orbit of the International Space Station to avoid collisions. He pointed out, "Even a small piece of chipped paint traveling at space velocity – about 28,000 kilometers per hour – could hit an astronaut on a spacewalk. And that could have fatal consequences."