Federal Communications Commission Fines Dish Network 150,000 Dollars for Creating Space Junk
The Dish Network has been fined for littering in space. Satellites left in orbit can earn the owner a $150,000 fine from the Federal Communication Commission.
The United States Government (FCC) issued a fine against Dish Network for leaving a retired satellite too low in space therefore posing a danger to other important satellites. Since the first satellite was launched in 1957, there have been over 11,000 satellites launched into space. Majority of these satellites are used for communications while others simply observe or help with navigation.
Different types of satellites
Satellites are characterized by their orbit and by what kind of work they perform. There are 3 levels we classify satellite orbits into according to how high above Earth they are: low-Earth (160-2,000km), medium-Earth (2,000-35,500km), and high-Earth (above 35,500km).
Low-Earth satellites speed around the earth because they are at such a low altitude and therefore have less distance to cover. These are typically used for communications, reconnaissance, or imaging. Majority of the satellites above Earth are in this category.
Medium-Earth satellites are used for GPS and navigation. These are used because they have a higher vantage point and therefore are more practical for this application. These satellites pass over the same spot every pass.
Some high-Earth satellites travel at the same speed as the Earth rotates therefore, they are called geosynchronous. This is what we use for weather monitoring because they are able to get a view of half of the planet all the time. The GOES satellite is used by the National Weather Service to obtain weather data.
This type of satellite is what the EchoStar-7, which is cause for the fine, was launched as. It was a geostationary satellite used to provide television to many Americans. The satellite was retired and set to move further away from the planet to reduce the likelihood of it crashing into another important satellite.
Space junk regulations
The FCC has the power to regulate space junk and has requirements for out of use satellites. Once decommissioned, a satellite should be sent further away from Earth, so they are outside of the orbit zone for another spacecraft. The other option is for the machinery to be lassoed back to earth causing it to burnup upon reentering the atmosphere.
The issue with space junk
Space junk floats around in space posing a large danger, mainly to satellites. The junk flies at a very fast speed due to the gravitational orbit. They then crash into the unlucky satellites causing potentially millions of dollars of damage.
Space junk is not like litter where we can just walk around and pick it up. Space travel costs a lot of money, so there is not much motivation to go out to space just to pick up space junk so it typically is left floating around potentially wreaking havoc. Hopefully, with this new precedent of getting fined for leaving space junk, the issue will be lessened going forward.