back to article Satellite operators want option to exceed deorbiting rules

A group of satellite operators has asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reconsider its proposed five-year window to remove orbital junk by adding language that would let them request waivers to exceed the limit.  Iridium Communications, HughesNet operator EchoStar, Luxembourg-based SES, and OneWeb, currently …

  1. Bartholomew


    I would grant them their option to exceed deorbiting rules as long as their satellite is at or below an orbit of 550 km

    ( It takes about 5 years for debris at 550 km to naturally deorbit due to atmospheric drag (depending on mass and surface area, amount of X-rays from the sun absorbed and warming the thermosphere, oh and disturbances to earths magnetic field ). So to stay in orbit they would need to use fuel, and once their fuel is gone they will deorbit in about 5 years *evil grin*). Once you get to 2000 km natural deorbit takes about 20 thousand years, and higher than the Exosphere (10,000 km) there is no atmospheric drag and the objects will never de-orbit. Most GPS satellites orbit roughly above about 20,000 km.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Allow a waiver with a couple of conditions: 1. You can't replace it until it's down and 2. You're on the hook for any collisions it's involved in while in orbit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Being "on the hook" for collisions is fairly meaningless. The concern isn't that a collision costs money, but that it snowballs quickly to the point where the earth is surrounded by 1mm bits of metal orbiting at 15000mph and obliterating anything we ever try and launch again. If that happens it doesn't matter who is "on the hook for it", it brings an end to any goals we have in space.

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        We've got a LONG ways to go before that's a real problem, however.

        Far more problematic is a business doing a default & restructure to avoid liability. You would want a bond--but there are issues with the insurance industry as well.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          An obligation to insure is what I had in mind. And, of course, the premium would have to be large to take into account the collateral damage due to the fragmentation the A/C mentions. IOW, make it preferable to get an unusable satellite down. Why leave it there?

        2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

          Make all C-suite members personally liable then, including jailtime if they can't pay. And, not dischargeable under bankruptcy. After all, they get paid the big bucks for taking the big risks, right?

      2. brainwrong

        batshit crazy idea

        Build large scale solar powered electrolysis plants to produce hydrogen gas to vent into the atmosphere. It will rise to the top of the atmosphere and provide drag on all orbiting objects on its journey to space. It'll bring all stuff down quicker, and maybe reduce sea levels to boot.

        May need a big, well enforced no-smoking zone :)

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. brainwrong

            Re: batshit crazy idea

            That looks very tiny. I suppose it could be scaled up to be useful for that purpose, but it may effectively be a big red light advertising our availability to any passing aliens looking for "a good time".

            Good luck!

  3. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

    Starlink V2 can launch on Falcon 9

    Slight correction: Starlink V2 can probably be launched on F9 with some adjustments, at least according to an FCC filing:

    They'll probably only really be economic with Starship though.

  4. DrSunshine0104

    I guess I don't see why it isn't disposed of more-or-less immediately at EOL. It isn't an asset that can be rehabilitated and it has to have the fuel on-board to de-orbit. So why wait any longer than it is necessary to make a safe transit from orbit to atmosphere? Either space-traffic control(?) is really backed-up on getting transfers completed or they are just wanting to play games with ledger books.

    1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      They can use that fuel to deorbit, or they can use it to get another year of life out of it. Guess what option they'll pick, every time?

      1. Bartholomew

        Maybe an Ion thruster, where some mass of the satellite is used as the fuel to deorbit. In LEO temperature can fluctuate from about 240°C to about 380°C, so maybe part of the satellite could me made of Zinc, lead or Bismuth and once the satellite is out of fuel the blocks can be ionized with power from the solar panels to deorbit. And to prevent the ion thrusters being used to extend the life of the satellite, have them connected to critical parts that will be damaged once the drive is power up. That the deorbit ion thruster only has one function and can do nothing else.

        1. Bartholomew

          Sorry I meant 240K to 380K

        2. Richard 12 Silver badge

          They won't do either unless forced

          Hence the five year rule.

          It's entirely up to the operator to select the method used to deorbit, as long as it does not leave debris. They have many options. (Though melting metal parts of the spacecraft is near certain to leave debris.)

          This is not a technical problem. It is political, thus only soluble via contracts or legislation.

  5. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    When profit is the sole motivator, all sorts of stupid happens

    If these profit seeking businesses fuck up our ability to explore space, they are gonna make a lot of enemies

    1. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

      It is not profitable for a space business to lose access to space.

      Just saying.

      Capitalism has inherent issues but this shouldn't be one of them.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Tragedy of the commons

        Unfettered capitalism always results in a sharp focus on short-term profit, with the longer term consequences either assumed to be paid for by "someone else" or ignored entirely.

        Once the incentives (profit) are plausibly separated from the consequences of misuse, the resource gets squandered and consumed.

        We see this everywhere else - climate change, land, banking - LEO is no different.

        For example, we're all still paying for the 2007 banking crisis, but those responsible would do it all again if given half a chance.

        Legislation is required to prevent this. Or at least, limit the damage.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "But our business model doesn't allow for deorbiting and cleaning up debris. If we do that, we'll either lose money or have to charge customers so much that they won't use our services and products!"

    That about sum it up? :(

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