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The FCC’s Rules on Space Junk Just Got Stricter

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There is also an international element to this discussion. FCC rules may also apply to some non-US satellite operators. “The FCC is trying to design this so that it applies to everyone who wants to access the U.S. market, not just U.S. licensees. “We’re trying to empower ourselves in ways that we can,” says Bruce McClintock, director of the Space Enterprise Initiative at Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization in Santa Monica, California. There is also For example, the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space He adopted the 25-Year Rule in 2010, which has become an international standard. But the lack of coordination within the current U.S. government on his proposed five-year rule could limit its potential effectiveness, he says, McClintock.

Like the ubiquitous plastic waste in our oceans, orbital junk has been accumulating over decades, with tens of thousands of traceable pieces now turning into millions too small to track. Bits are zipping through low earth orbit at an altitude of less than 1,200 miles. Too small to damage the satellite. That means large networks like OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink can fall victim to debris collisions, even if companies try to quickly deorbit their satellites.

Leaving junk in space less time means moving it down, so it burns out faster. McKnight argues that meeting the 5-year rule is worthwhile and that the 1-year rule would be better. space stations, and other important spacecraft. He also believes that advances in technology, such as the shift from chemical propulsion to electric propulsion, will allow satellites to move even if only 1% of the mass of the launch payload is fuel.

Marlon Soji, an aerospace technical fellow at Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center in El Segundo, Calif., says other innovations may also help. “Adding propulsion to small satellites is fairly difficult, but there are other options, such as drag enhancers, which deploy long tethers or sails that expand their area,” he says. .

Importantly, FCC rules also apply to the upper-stage rocket body. Many of the old-timers who were on track were left behind by the United States, China, and Russia decades ago. But the rocket may be too large to burn up on re-entry, so it must be returned to Earth in a controlled manner to an uninhabited patch of ocean.

McClintock said the biggest problem wasn’t how long it would take the owner to leave the spacecraft’s orbit, but that there was no enforcement mechanism to ensure that the owner could carry out the plan. points out that. “People will say that the reason they are against the 5-year rule is that they have not yet complied with the 25-year rule, which is a bigger concern,” he says. “If compliance with the 25-year rule is high, there is no need for the 5-year rule.”

Still, McKnight argues that it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to these controversial licensing requirements. There are no aviation accidents affecting the following flights. When an accident occurs in space, it can last for decades or even hundreds of years. ”

UPDATE Oct 5, 2022 6:30 PM: This article has been updated to clarify Darren McKnight’s comment regarding the one-year rule.

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