The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to adopt new rules to address the growing risk of orbital debris (commonly known as space junk) posing a hazard to extraterrestrial exploration.
Government agencies give U.S. operators a much tighter deadline to get rid of dysfunctional satellites that are hovering fruitlessly around the globe and interfering with spacecraft on active missions.
The FCC has voted to decommission low-Earth orbit satellites after their missions have ended within five years. Government agencies have previously recommended operators of low-Earth orbit satellites to allow their spacecraft to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere within her 25 years.
FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel said: “This means greater accountability, less risk of collisions, and a greater chance of orbital debris and space communications failures.
U.S. telecommunications regulators point out that of the 10,000 satellites deployed since 1957, more than half are non-functional.
“Defeated satellites, discarded rocket cores and other debris litter the space environment and pose challenges to current and future missions,” the FCC said.
Not only will this amount of crap make future missions more expensive, but it could also put some outright at risk if they give investors the chills, officials warn.
There are over 4,800 satellites in orbit, the majority of which are commercial low earth orbit satellites.
“The second space age has arrived. For it to continue to grow, we need to do more to clean up after ourselves so space innovation can continue to keep up.
NASA has funded some academic research on space debris, and a bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to “revitalize the development of debris removal technology in the United States,” according to the FCC commissioner. Jeffrey Starks said.
He said the new rule “will bend the debris diffusion curve. It will also reduce collisions and free up resources to try to avoid collisions.”
“Without a secure operating environment, debris risk could escalate from a financial afterthought to a peril that would force investors to think twice, driving up permitting costs and increasing the cost of new investments,” Starks said. It can complicate operations in ways that slow or limit space efforts.”