Advertisement

FCC chair calls for stricter 'space junk' rules

A piece of space debris that fell through the roof of a Naples. Fla. home was jettisoned from the International Space Station. The FCC Thursday proposed stiffening rules regarding rocket explosions that could cause debris. Courtesy of NASA.
A piece of space debris that fell through the roof of a Naples. Fla. home was jettisoned from the International Space Station. The FCC Thursday proposed stiffening rules regarding rocket explosions that could cause debris. Courtesy of NASA.

May 30 (UPI) -- The chair of the Federal Communications Commission called on the agency to strengthen rules to "limit the risks posed by accidental explosions in space" in light of a huge influx in the number of satellites being launched and a spate of recent events in which space junk has fallen to Earth.

"We can no longer afford to launch new satellites into our skies without being thoughtful about space sustainability," FCC chairwoman Chairwoman Rosenworcel said. "Our orbital debris mitigation efforts will help preserve the orbital environment to protect services we rely on and allow new services to be launched."

Advertisement

Specifically, Rosenworcel is calling on the FCC to update its orbital debris mitigation rules to require that companies applying to launch a satellite prove there is less than a 1 in 1,000 chance that the orbital would experience an explosion that generates debris.

Advertisement

"Our orbital debris mitigation efforts will help preserve the orbital environment to protect services we rely on and allow new services to be launched," she added in her announcement.

Thursday's report is part of the FCC's efforts to mitigate the generation of debris in light of the increasing number of satellites in orbit, a release from the chairwoman said. The new rules would be phased in over a year, Rosenworcel's office said.

The announcement comes just after several incidents in which debris from spacecraft have fallen to the earth, including a piece of debris thought to be from the International Space Station that blasted through a Florida man's roof.

NASA examined the object that flew into Alejandro Otero's roof in Naples, Fla., on March 8 and determined it was a 1.6 pound piece of debris about 4 inches long, garbage that was jettisoned from the International Space Station and which scientists expected would disintegrate upon re-entering the atmosphere.

They determined it was part of a 5,800 pound pallet of depleted nickel hydride batteries the ISS threw out in 2021.

"The hardware was expected to fully burn up during entry through Earth's atmosphere on March 8, 2024," NASA said in a statement. "However, a piece of hardware survived re-entry and impacted a home in Naples, Fla."

Advertisement

NASA said it would investigate to "determine the cause of the debris survival and to update modeling and analysis, as needed."

Earlier this month, a series of bizarre and unexplained lights in the California sky were determined to be space debris. The lights were caught on camera over Sand City, Carmel and Salinas in Monterey County in the middle of the night and sparked a flurry of online speculation.

In 2023, the FCC fined the DISH network for violating the orbital space debris rules. Under terms of that settlement, DISH was forced to pay a penalty of $150,000 fine and "adhere to a compliance plan" after admitting liability for not properly disposing of its EchoStar-7 satellite after the end of its mission, the FCC announced.

"As satellite operations become more prevalent and the space economy accelerates, we must be certain that operators comply with their commitments," FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan Egal said then. "This is a breakthrough settlement, making very clear the FCC has strong enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules."

In July 2023, the Australian Space Agency said a mysterious cylinder that washed up on a beach had been identified as debris from an Indian rocket.

Advertisement

The agency said on social media that the object found on a beach in Green Head, Western Australia, is "most likely debris from an expended third-stage of a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle" launched by the Indian Space Research Organization.

Latest Headlines