Federal Communications Commission takes first Space Debris Enforcement action

Published by FCC News, 2 October 2023

Settles Investigation of DISH for Failing to Comply with Deorbiting Plan

WASHINGTON — The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau today announced a
settlement of its investigation into DISH for failure to properly deorbit its EchoStar-7 satellite.
This marks a first in space debris enforcement by the Commission, which has stepped up its
satellite policy efforts, including establishing the Space Bureau and implementing its Space
Innovation Agenda. The settlement includes an admission of liability from the company and
an agreement to adhere to a compliance plan and pay a penalty of $150,000.

The FCC’s investigation found that the company violated the Communications Act, the FCC
rules, and the terms of the company’s license by relocating its direct broadcast satellite
(“DBS”) service EchoStar-7 satellite at the satellite’s end-of-mission to a disposal orbit well
below the elevation required by the terms of its license. At this lower altitude, it could pose
orbital debris concerns.

“As satellite operations become more prevalent and the space economy accelerates, we must be
certain that operators comply with their commitments,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief
Loyaan A. Egal. “This is a breakthrough settlement, making very clear the FCC has strong
enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules.”

FCC rules prohibit the use or operation of any apparatus for the transmission of energy or
communications or signals by a space or earth station except under and in accordance with a
Commission-granted authorization. This vital rule prevents interference in satellite operations
and allows the Commission to coordinate and evaluate those operations, including minimizing
the creation of space debris and ensuring responsible end-of-mission satellite disposal.

DISH launched its EchoStar-7 satellite in 2002. In an orbital debris mitigation plan later filed
by DISH, and approved by the Commission in 2012, the company committed to bring the
satellite at the end of its mission to an altitude of 300 kilometers (km) above its operational
geostationary arc. In subsequent filings with the FCC, DISH estimated that, based on the
remaining fuel and projected operational parameters, the satellite’s end-of-mission deorbit
maneuvers would take place in May 2022.

However, in February 2022, DISH determined that the satellite had very little propellant left,
which meant it could not follow the original orbital debris mitigation plan in its license. DISH
ultimately retired the satellite at a disposal orbit approximately 122 km above the geostationary
arc, well short of the disposal orbit of 300 km specified in its orbital debris mitigation plan.

The Consent Decree is available at: https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-23-888A1.pdf.

See : Original Statement