The RDOF program has authorized more than $6 billion in funding to bring primarily fiber gigabit broadband services to more than 3,458,000 locations across the United States. Credit: SpaceNews/Caleb Henry

TAMPA, Fla. — The Federal Communications Commission has fined Dish Network $150,000 for failing to properly remove a satellite from geostationary orbit, the U.S. regulator said Oct. 2 in a first for its space debris enforcement action.

The settlement includes an admission of liability from Dish for leaving EchoStar-7 at 122 kilometers above its operational geostationary arc, less than halfway to where the satellite broadcaster had agreed. 

EchoStar-7 could pose orbital debris concerns at this lower altitude, the FCC warned.

The regulator said it approved a plan from Dish in 2012 to move the satellite at the end of its mission 300 kilometers above geostationary orbit, which is about 35,786 kilometers above the Earth.

Dish had estimated it would need to start moving the satellite in May 2022 to ensure it had enough fuel for the trip after two decades in orbit — but just three months ahead of the planned move the company found insufficient propellant remaining.

The FCC made no specific findings that EchoStar-7 poses any orbital debris safety concerns, a Dish spokesperson said in an emailed statement, adding the operator “has a long track record of safely flying a large satellite fleet and takes seriously its responsibilities as an FCC licensee.”

There are seven operational satellites in Dish’s fleet, and one recently ordered from Maxar Technologies for a launch in the next few years.

“This is a breakthrough settlement,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan Egal said in a statement, “making very clear the FCC has strong enforcement authority and capability to enforce its vitally important space debris rules.”

Dish agreed to implement a raft of orbital debris safety measures in addition to the penalty, including developing and improving ways to track propellant reserves, providing more details about how and when it will dispose of each operational satellite, and training to ensure employees comply with space rules and operating procedures.

The company also has 30 days to pick a senior corporate manager to serve as compliance officer to oversee these efforts.

This article was updated Oct. 3 with a comment from Dish Network

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...