The US government has issued its first-ever fine to a company for leaving space junk orbiting the Earth. The Federal Communications Commission fined Dish Network $150,000 (£125,000) for failing to move an old satellite far enough away from others in use. The company admitted liability over its EchoStar-7 satellite and agreed to a “compliance plan” with the FCC. Space junk is made up bits of tech that are in orbit around the Earth but are no longer in use, and risk collisions.
Dish’s EchoStar-7, launched in 2002, was in geostationary orbit, starting at 22,000 miles (36,000km) above the Earth’s surface. At the end of its life in 2022, Dish had moved it only 76 miles after it lost fuel. The FCC enforcement bureau chief, Loyaan Egal, said that this is a breakthrough settlement, making very clear the FCC has strong enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules.
The $150,000 fine represents a tiny proportion of Dish’s overall revenue, which was $16.7bn in 2022. The more things we have in orbit, the more risk there is of collisions, causing high-speed debris. NASA estimates that there are more than 25,000 pieces of space debris measuring over 10cm long.