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US adopts new rules to deal with orbital debris

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US adopts new rulesto deal with orbital debris

The UnitedStates Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on a new set of rules toaddress the risk of orbital debris also known as space junk or space debrisposing a threat to space exploration. This new rules were passed by a vote of4-0 and it includes reducing the time to remove defunct satellites from theEarth’s orbit which may get in the way of spacecraft on active missions.

“It willmean more accountability and less risk of collisions that increase orbitaldebris and the likelihood of space communication failures,” said the FCC chair, JessicaRosenworcel. The agency would give the US operators a shorter deadline forpost-mission disposal of low-Earth orbit satellites, changing from 25 years to5 years.

The agencynoted that 10,000 satellites have been launched since 1957 and that more thanhalf of them are no longer active. “Defunct satellites, discarded rocketcores, and other debris now fill the space environment, creating challenges forcurrent and future missions,” said the FCC. They also noted that there aremore than 4,800 satellites in orbit by the end of 2021, while a large majorityof them are commercial low-Earth orbit satellites.

“The secondspace age is here. For it to continue to grow, we need to do more to clean upafter ourselves so space innovation can continue to respond”, said the FCC chair. According toFCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, NASA has funded many academic studies on spacedebris, while a bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation tojumpstart the technology that would assist with debris removal.

The new rulewould “bend the curve of debris proliferation”, said Stark. He added, “Italso will reduce collisions and free up resources that would otherwise gotoward trying to avoid them.” According to Stark, “without a safeoperating environment, debris risk could escalate from a financial afterthoughtto a hazard that makes investors think twice, and could complicate operationsin a way that slows or limits new space endeavors while driving up per-missioncosts.”

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