FCC proposes ‘five-year rule’ for dead satellite disposal

The Federal Communications Commission wants to do something about low Earth orbit. On Thursday, the agency (via ) that, if adopted, would put a deadline on how long non-geostationary satellites can stay in space.

As things stand, voluntary NASA guidelines published in the 1990s recommend that dead satellites should be deorbited within 25 years. The FCC wants to adopt a five-year rule that would require domestic satellite operators and companies that want access to the US market to dispose of their non-functioning satellites as soon as they can. “We believe it is no longer sustainable to leave satellites in LEO [low Earth orbit] to deorbit over decades,” the FCC states in its proposal.

Satellites already in space would be exempt from the FCC’s guidelines. The Commission is also proposing there be a two-year grandfathering period that starts on September 29th, the day it plans to vote on the regulation. That carveout would give organizations that previously obtained approval for a future satellite launch time to develop a disposal plan for their spacecraft. The FCC said it would also grant waivers case-by-case after NASA expressed concern that the five-year limit would impact its .

The proposal comes as the number of satellites in low Earth orbit is expected to increase dramatically over the next few years. With contributions from companies like , and , as many as could be floating above the planet by 2025. Those satellites will not only make it more challenging to , but the probability of a potential crash will increase too.

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