US satellites in low Earth orbit will be de-orbited in 5 years

Old U.S. satellites in low Earth orbit are due to fall in five years, if a proposed new regulation is approved.

Targeting satellite operators, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has a order project (opens in a new tab) released Thursday (September 8) calling for the machines to be de-orbited within half a decade of these missions being completed. The order was reported by SpaceNews (opens in a new tab).

“We believe that a five-year post-mission orbital lifetime strikes an appropriate balance between significantly reducing risk while remaining flexible and responsive to a wider selection of mission profiles,” the order states.

If approved, this order would be a new arsenal in the FCC’s latest appeal against space debris. In August, the commission released an update promising new rules against space waste, focusing in particular on assembly and manufacturing of services in space as an emerging solution.

Related: Kessler Syndrome and the Space Debris Problem

The FCC, along with scientists and space agencies, have raised many concerns in recent months about the effect of megaconstellations and their effects.

Huge constellations of satellites like SpaceX’s Starlink could, critics say, affect night sky observations, interfere with searches for potentially dangerous asteroids and possibly affect launch windows due to the number of satellites flying overhead. above.

The European Southern Observatory tweeted a thread (opens in a new tab) Friday (September 9), raising its own concerns about how Starlink could affect observations from its telescopes, which take advantage of dark locations in remote areas to perform cutting-edge astronomical observations.

Citing a 2020 study, ESO pointed out that wide-field telescopes like the Vera C. Rubin Observatory could see up to 50% of their observations spoiled by Starlink streaks at dusk, as SpaceX aims to put at least 12,000 individual satellites in orbit. SpaceX, however, argued that it was taking steps to darken the satellites and that its Starlinks could maneuver in the event of a collision.

Related: Wow! This is what SpaceX’s Starlink satellites look like in the night sky

The FCC has also made an effort on space debris in 2020 at the time, it was said to be the biggest update to space debris rules in more than 15 years. This update focused on safe disposal practices, possible loss risks, and the requirement for US satellite applicants to share the risk of satellite collisions.

Space debris, however, became more prevalent in November 2021 after a Russian anti-satellite test created a large cloud of debris that threatened the International Space Station a few times and created “bursts” of close encounters in orbit.

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