In a historic move, the U.S. government has issued a $150,000 fine against a satellite TV company for leaving potentially “hazardous” debris floating in space.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) conducted an investigation that revealed Dish Network had placed one of its satellites in an orbit “well below the elevation required by the terms of its license,” the agency announced in a statement on Monday.
Dish Network agreed to pay the substantial fine, marking the first penalty as part of the FCC’s heightened efforts to enforce rules on space debris.
In addition to the penalty, Dish was required to admit liability over its EchoStar-7 satellite and they agreed to adhere to a “compliance plan.”
Loyaan Egal, the acting chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, called the settlement a “breakthrough.”
“The FCC 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,” Egal continued.
Dish responded in a statement maintaining that the satellite at fault was “an older spacecraft (launched in 2002) that had been explicitly exempted from the FCC’s rule requiring a minimum disposal orbit.”
The company also contended that it has a “long track record of safely flying a large satellite fleet and takes seriously its responsibilities as an FCC licensee.”
According to reports, space debris is an issue becoming more “urgent” for satellite operators.
It is estimated that more than 10,000 satellites have been launched into space since the first in 1957, with over half of them now out of use.
These objects present a potential threat of colliding with operational satellites, the International Space Station, or other debris.