FCC issues first ever fine to Dish Network of $150,000

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued its first ever fine to satellite outfit Dish Network for failing to properly deorbit its EchoStar-7 satellite. 

dishThe company which has admitted liability and to adhere to a compliance plan, faces a penalty of USD $150,000.

According to the FCC, 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 300km 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 said 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 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.

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 authorisation. The FCC said, this prevents interference in satellite operations and allows the Commission to coordinate and evaluate those operations, including minimising the creation of space debris and ensuring responsible end-of-mission satellite disposal.

“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.”

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