In a first-ever for space junk, Dish Network was fined $150,000 for leaving a retired satellite to orbit indefinitely in the wrong place
- The FCC announced a settlement with the Dish Network over one of the company's retired satellites.
- The agency said Dish left the satellite at the wrong disposal orbit at the end of its mission.
The Federal Communications Commission announced Monday it has fined Dish Network $150,000 for a retired satellite that was left in the wrong place in space as concerns about space trash grow.
The FCC said it was the first enforcement action it's ever taken regarding space debris, or defunct human-made objects that are no longer used but left in space.
Dish reached a settlement with the FCC, in which the company admitted liability for not properly disposing of its EchoStar-7 satellite at the end of its mission. EchoStar-7 was initially launched in 2002.
In a statement, the FCC said Dish left the retired satellite at a "disposal orbit well below the elevation" that was required. Under a plan approved by the FCC in 2012, Dish committed to relocating the satellite at the end of its mission to about 186 miles above its operational geostationary arc.
Instead, after realizing in 2022 that the satellite was low on propellant and would not be able to reach that altitude, Dish retired the satellite only about 76 miles above that operational arc. The FCC said the lower disposal orbit could pose space debris concerns.
"Orbital debris in space jeopardizes the nation's terrestrial and space-based communication systems by increasing the risk of damage to satellite communications systems," the FCC said in its consent decree.
Loyaan A. Egal, the FCC Enforcement Bureau chief, said it was a "breakthrough settlement" that shows the agency "has strong enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules."
"As satellite operations become more prevalent and the space economy accelerates, we must be certain that operators comply with their commitments," he said.
In a statement provided to Insider, a Dish spokesperson noted that the FCC's Enforcement Bureau "made no specific findings that EchoStar-7 poses any orbital debris safety concerns."
"DISH has a long track record of safely flying a large satellite fleet and takes seriously its responsibilities as an FCC licensee," the spokesperson said.
As more and more companies send objects into space, there are increasing concerns about space trash.
NASA last month awarded the company TransAstra an $850,000 contract to work on the possibility of cleaning up space garbage with a large "capture bag" that the company calls Flytrap.
"Space junk is one of the greatest perils that astronauts face in low Earth orbit today," Joel C. Sercel, a former astronaut and the founder of TransAstra, previously told Insider.
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