As smart as they might be, human beings retain a pretty strong tendency to make mistakes. The same has been proven time and time again throughout our history, with each testimony practically forcing us to look for some sort of a defensive cover. We will, on our part, find an answer to our conundrum by bringing dedicated regulatory bodies into the fold. Having a well-defined authority across every area was a game-changer, as it gave us a cushion against our many shortcomings, and consequentially, allowed us to have a shot all those possibilities that we had felt incapable of conceiving before. However, the stated possibilities would soon dissipate into thin air, and if we are to tell you why, it was very much technology’s fault. You see, the moment technology and its layered nature arrived on the block, they gave people an unprecedented chance to exploit others for their own benefit, while also having to face no consequences whatsoever for doing so. As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, the components of it started to materialize on such a massive scale that they ended up overwhelming our governing forces. After a long time, though, the power dynamics seem ready to shift again. In fact, the same has only turned more and more evident over the recent past, and one potential rule might do a lot to build upon that momentum.
According to several reports, the Federal Communications Commission is officially looking to revamp its requirements in terms of satellite disposal. Now, while, at present, there are no concrete rules for de-orbiting LEO satellites, the agency’s licenses are usually tenured in compliance with the industry standard i.e. 25 years. However, assuming the new regulation comes to fruition, it will mandate LEO operators to dispose of satellites no more than five years following the end of their mission, and ideally ‘as soon as practicable’. The available details go on to suggest that the regulation will apply to satellites launched two years after the order is implemented. Furthermore, it is expected to cover both US-licensed satellites, as well as those licensed by other jurisdictions but seeking US market access.
“We believe that a five-year post-mission orbital lifetime strikes an appropriate balance between meaningfully reducing risk while remaining flexible and responsive to a broader selection of mission profiles,” the FCC said.
As promising as it sounds, there is no guarantee that it will have a huge impact. This was also made apparent by a report from NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office that stated how reducing the post-mission lifetime from 25 years to 5 years would result in only a 10 percent decrease in the orbital debris population over 200 years.
The formulation of such a rule has been on the cards for a while now. To be more specific, the first time FCC gave it a serious thought was back in April 2020, but a decision on it was delayed at that time. Nevertheless, given the pressing nature of the issue, it would be better if we see a concrete action sooner rather than later.