DISH faces $150,000 penalty for dumping satellite into wrong orbit

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U.S. television provider DISH has been fined $150,000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after one of its satellites was dumped into the wrong orbit at the end of its operational life.

The satellite, EchoStar-7, was launched in 2002 and placed into a geostationary orbit. It spent the next two decades beaming content to US receivers before reaching the end of its life.

In 2012, DISH filed an orbital debris mitigation plan for EchoStar-7 with the FCC. The plan called for the satellite’s orbit to be raised 300km, sending it into a graveyard orbit. However, in February 2022, DISH determined that the satellite did not have enough propellant left to reach the required orbit. Instead, it was dumped at 122km above the geostationary arc, less than half the distance promised.

The FCC said that having been retired to a lower orbit, EchoStar-7 “could pose orbital debris concerns.” DISH admitted liability for the issue and agreed to adhere to a compliance plan.

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

A DISH spokesperson said “As the Enforcement Bureau recognizes in the settlement, the EchoStar-7 satellite was an older spacecraft (launched in 2002) that had been explicitly exempted from the FCC’s rule requiring a minimum disposal orbit. Moreover, the Bureau made no specific findings that EchoStar-7 poses any orbital debris safety concerns.

“DISH has a long track record of safely flying a large satellite fleet and takes seriously its responsibilities as an FCC licensee.”

The sources for this piece include an article in TheRegister.

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