In five years, US satellites in low Earth orbit will be deorbited

If a proposed new law is implemented, defunct US satellites in low Earth orbit would be required to be decommissioned within five years. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has issued a draft order targeting satellite operators, proposing that the devices be deorbited in half a decade after their operations are over.


We feel that a five-year post-mission orbital lifespan achieves a suitable balance between significantly decreasing risk and staying flexible and responsive to a greater range of mission profiles, according to the directive.


If adopted, this directive would add to the FCC's most recent appeal to combat space debris. The commission released an update in August promising new restrictions against space garbage, with an emphasis on in-space service assembly and manufacturing as a potential solution.


In recent months, the FCC, as well as scientists and space organizations, have expressed several worries about the consequences of mega-constellations. Large satellite constellations, like SpaceX's Starlink, may interfere with potentially dangerous asteroid hunts and may impact launch windows owing to the number of satellites flying overhead, according to critics.


The European Southern Observatory tweeted a thread on Friday (Sept. 9) highlighting its own concerns about how Starlink would disrupt its telescopes' operations, which use gloomy places in isolated locales to make cutting-edge astronomical studies. According to ESO 2020 research, wide-field survey telescopes like the Vera C. Rubin Observatory may have up to 50% of their views disrupted by Starlink streaks at twilight, as SpaceX expects to launch at least 12,000 individual satellites into orbit. However, SpaceX has claimed that it is taking efforts to dull the satellites and that its Starlinks can adjust in the event of a collision.

The FCC also launched a space debris initiative in 2020, which was billed as the most significant reform to space debris laws in more than 15 years. That update focuses on safe disposal processes, potential casualty risk, and a need for U.S. satellite applicants to share satellite collision risk. However, space trash became more common in November 2021 when a Russian anti-satellite test generated a massive cloud of debris that endangered the International Space Station several times and caused "squalls" of close collisions in orbit.

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