The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to adopt new rules to address the growing risks of orbital debris, commonly known as space debris, posing a danger to extraterrestrial exploration.
The government body will give US carriers much tighter deadlines to get rid of obsolete satellites uselessly buzzing around the planet and getting in the way of spacecraft on active missions.
The FCC voted to require post-mission removal of low-Earth orbit satellites within five years. The agency previously recommended low-Earth orbit satellite operators ensure that spacecraft re-enter Earth’s atmosphere within 25 years.
“It will mean more liability and less risk of collisions that increase orbital debris and the likelihood of space communications failures,” FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel said.
The US telecommunications regulator noted that of the 10,000 satellites deployed since 1957, more than half are no longer operational.
“Old satellites, discarded rocket cores and other debris now litter the space environment, creating challenges for current and future missions,” the FCC said.
Not only does this volume of scrap make future missions more expensive, it could jeopardize some if it gives investors the creeps, the agency warned.
He noted that there are more than 4,800 satellites in orbit, and the vast majority are commercial low-Earth orbit satellites.
“The second space age is here. For it to continue to grow, we must do more to clean up our mess so that space innovation can continue to respond,” said Rosenworcel.
NASA has funded several academic studies on space debris, and a bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation “to further the development of debris removal technology in the United States,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.
He said the new rule “will bend the curve of debris proliferation. It will also reduce collisions and free up resources that would otherwise be used to try to avoid them.”
Starks warned that “without a safe operating environment, debris risk could go from being a financial afterthought to a hazard that makes investors think twice and could complicate operations in a way that slows or limits new developments.” space efforts while increasing costs per mission.