Satellites must be deorbited within five years of completing missions, FCC rules

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued new regulations to address the growing risk of “space debris,” or abandoned satellites, missiles, and other debris. The new “5-year rule” requires low-earth operators to deorbit their satellites within five years of mission completion. That is significantly less time than the previous guideline of 25 years.

“But 25 years is a long time,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “There is no reason to wait that long anymore, especially in low-Earth orbit. The second space age is here. For it to keep growing, we need to do more to clean up after ourselves so space innovation can continue to respond. “

Rosenworcel noted that around 10,000 satellites weighing “thousands of tons” have been launched since 1957, more than half of which are now inoperable. The new rule “means more accountability and reduced risk of collisions, which increase space debris and the likelihood of communications failures in space.”

However, some US officials do not necessarily agree with the decision. Members of the Science, Space and Technology Committee said in a letter that such decisions are often made by NASA. By acting unilaterally, the FCC could create “unsafe and potentially conflicting guidance” for the space industry. They urged the FCC to explain the decision to Congress, saying “this would ensure that procedural action such as the Congressional Review Act is not required.”

NASA has said that there are “23,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth.” It noted that China’s 2007 anti-satellite test “added more than 3,500 pieces of large, trackable debris and many more smaller debris to the debris problem.”

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