The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has imposed a $150,000 fine against satellite TV broadcaster Dish Network for failing to move a defunct satellite out of orbit as required under federal rules.
The fine against Dish is the first of its type handed down by the FCC, which recently commissioned a Space Bureau and implemented a space-focused policy called the “Space Innovation Agenda.”
In a public notice issued on Monday, officials at the FCC said Dish failed to de-orbit its Echostar VII television satellite following its planned mission.
The satellite was launched in 2002 and served as one of two orbital antennas for Dish’s general entertainment service, with channels transmitted in standard definition. Echostar VII had a planned mission of 12 years, but actually served the company for two decades before it was finally decommissioned in 2022.
As part of its decommission process, Dish was supposed to move the satellite from its position at 119-degrees West. In February 2022, engineers at Dish discovered thruster equipment on the satellite had malfunctioned, which prevented the satellite from being moved as planned.
Satellite companies are required to obtain various licenses from the FCC in order to provide commercial or enterprise broadcasting and datacasting services. In this case, the terms of Dish’s license required it to move EchoStar VII 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) above its operational orbit. But the failed thruster combined with the satellite’s lower-than-expected reserve of propellant meant DIsh was only able to move the satellite 122 kilometers (about 75 miles) above its former orbit position.
This week, Dish affirmed the matter wasn’t in compliance with the terms of its FCC license and agreed to pay the $150,000 fine for not moving the satellite as required, the FCC said.
“As satellite operations become more prevalent and the space economy accelerates, we must be certain that operators comply with their commitments,” Loyaan A. Egal, the chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement. “This is a breakthrough settlement, making very clear the FCC has strong enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules.”
As part of its enforcement action, the FCC says Dish will also develop a compliance plan for future satellites that will be decommissioned. The FCC says it will not hold a hearing to determine if Dish should be excluded in the future from holding licenses related to satellite broadcasting.