WASHINGTON D.C.: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 4-0 last week to enforce new rules to address the issue of orbital debris, which pose a risk to space exploration.
After earlier recommending that operators of satellites in low-Earth orbit must ensure spacecraft re-enter Earth's atmosphere within 25 years, the FCC has now voted to require them to dispose of low-Earth orbit satellites within five years.
"It will mean more accountability and less risk of collisions that increase orbital debris and the likelihood of space communication failures," said FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, as quoted by Reuters.
Of the 10,000 satellites deployed since 1957, more than half are no longer working, U.S. telecommunications regulator noted.
"Defunct satellites, discarded rocket cores, and other debris now fill the space environment, creating challenges for current and future missions," the FCC said, noting that as of the end of last year there are more than 4,800 satellites operating in orbit, and most are commercial low-Earth orbit satellites.
"The second space age is here. For it to continue to grow, we need to do more to clean up after ourselves so space innovation can continue to respond," Rosenworcel said.
The new rules "will bend the curve of debris proliferation. It also will reduce collisions and free up resources that would otherwise go toward trying to avoid them," FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said. NASA has funded several academic studies on space debris.
However, "without a safe operating environment, the risk of debris could escalate from a financial afterthought to a hazard that makes investors think twice, and could complicate operations in a way that slows or limits new space endeavors, while driving up per-mission costs," Starks said, according to Reuters.