(Bloomberg) -- Dish Network Corp. was fined $150,000 by US regulators for leaving a retired satellite parked in the wrong place in space, reflecting official concern over the growing amount of debris orbiting Earth and the potential for mishaps.
The Federal Communications Commission called the action its first to enforce safeguards against orbital debris.
“This is a breakthrough settlement, making very clear the FCC has strong enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules,” Loyaan A. Egal, the agency’s enforcement bureau chief, said in a statement.
Space has grown crowded in recent years as low-orbiting communications satellites proliferate, including those from Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
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The number of satellites has reached almost 9,000, compared with roughly 2,000 less than five years ago, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard University. SpaceX accounted for more than 4,800, McDowell said.
The FCC says it has applications pending for more than 56,000 satellites. Those planning launches include Amazon.com Inc.’s Project Kuiper, which envisions a fleet of 3,236 spacecraft.
Dish’s EchoStar-7 satellite, which relayed pay-TV signals, ran short of fuel, and the company retired it at an altitude roughly 76 miles (122 kilometers) above its operational orbit. It was supposed to have been parked 186 miles above its operational orbit, the FCC said in an order.
The company admitted it failed to park EchoStar-7 as authorized. It agreed to implement a compliance plan and pay a $150,000 civil penalty, the FCC said.
A Dish spokesperson said the FCC “made no specific findings that EchoStar-7 poses any orbital debris safety concerns.”
“Dish has a long track record of safely flying a large satellite fleet and takes seriously its responsibilities as an FCC licensee,” the spokesperson said in an email.
Dish, a pay-TV and mobile phone company, is based in Englewood, Colorado.
(Updates with Dish comment beginning in the ninth paragraph.)
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