FCC Adopts ‘5-Year Rule’ For De-Orbiting Satellites

6th Oct 2022
FCC Adopts ‘5-Year Rule’ For De-Orbiting Satellites

On 30th September 2022, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission revealed a new five-year rule for de-orbiting satellites.

The new rule means that satellite operators in low-Earth orbit must dispose of their satellites within the five years following mission completion. 

This represents a critical step forward in the new era for orbital debris and space safety. Previously, he prior rule implemented a 25-year deadline for de-orbiting satellites after a mission. 

In the “Second Report and Order” released by the commission, they stated the following:

“Today, the Federal Communications Commission takes a first step toward ushering in a new era for space safety and orbital debris policy. We do so by adopting a first-ever rule requiring nongeostationary satellite operators to deorbit their satellites after the end of their operations to minimize the risk of collisions that would create debris. Our action today formalizes a longstanding orbital debris guideline, updates it to better reflect the realities of today’s space activities, and uniformly applies it to space stations in LEO.”

You can read the ruling in full here.

Taking action and addressing the challenges of orbital debris

The long- and short-term challenges and impact of orbital debris have been well-documented lately. Discarded rocket cores, defunct satellites, and other types of spacecraft debris are increasingly filling the space environment, posing safety and logistical challenges for missions in the future. 

The new ruling means space companies need to be more accountable. This will lower the risk of collisions, which create further debris. 

The impact of the new five-year rule should not be underestimated, considering there are currently over 4,800 satellites operating in orbit, as of the end of 2021, and the majority of these are commercial LEO satellites. 

A transition period of two years for companies

The new rule puts a strict five-year deadline in place but also indicates that companies should de-orbit as soon as practical. 

There is a transition period of two years to enable space companies to put provisions in place so that they can adhere to this ruling. 

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