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FCC proposes new regulation requiring satellites to be de-orbited five years after mission end

The FCC yesterday announced it is considering a new regulation that would require companies to de-orbit defunct satellites in low Earth orbit no more than five years after the satellite’s shut down.

The order, if adopted by commissioners, would require spacecraft that end their missions in or passing through LEO — defined as altitudes below 2,000 kilometers — dispose of their spacecraft through reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere as soon as practicable and no more than five years after the end of the mission. The rule would apply to satellites launched two years after the order is adopted, and include both U.S.-licensed satellites as well as those licensed by other jurisdictions but seeking U.S. market access.

According to the FCC press release [pdf], this new regulation will be discussed at the next public meeting of the commission on September 29, 2022.

Though in general this rule appears a good idea, there are several legitimate objections to it. NASA’s orbital debris office noted that this rule would only reduce space junk by 10%. Others questioned the FCC’s regulatory authority to do this at all, since its main statutory function is not the regulation satellite operations but the use of the frequencies those satellites use.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. All editions can also be purchased direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Col Beausabre

    How does the FCC have jurisdiction? What about things that aren’t communication satellites? The congressionally mandated role is to manage the electromagnetic spectrum, not to run space flight, which is NASA’s job. Is NASA failing in that regard? Are they going to try to take over the Federal Railroad Administration next?

  • Col Beausabre: Actually, this isn’t NASA’s job either. Based on a variety of Congressional laws, I would say it either falls to the FAA or the Commerce department.

  • Andi

    From the FCC website:

    “The Federal Communications Commission regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. ”

    Are they claiming jurisdiction due to the fact that the EM spectrum is used to communicate with the satellites?

  • GaryMike

    The FCC is effectively interfering in future free market capitalism.

    I don’t recall them exerting authority over septic tanks.

  • pzatchok

    Soon they will have authority over our cars since they all will be using the internet and cell systems to drive us around.

  • GaryMike

    De-orbiting space junk is a good thing. Highly recommend the practice. It makes for a good community standard (one doubts the commies actually care about such a standard. Irony).

  • sippin_bourbon

    Government power grab. Mr Z posted something about the FCC a few months ago.

    Look for more grabs in the future, as they piecemeal regulatory (never passed by Congress) control for activity above the atmosphere.

  • Concerned

    How about deorbiting about 90% of the objects otherwise known as FCC government employees? That would be a true and welcome reduction in space junk.

  • pzatchok

    What about the space tug industry?

    It might take quite a while to get a nonfunctional satellite refueled or repaired.
    And what about any parts that are parked in orbit for later use?

    And whats the penalty for a satellite that shuts down unexpectedly and just sits up there tumbling out of control?

  • Jeff Wright

    This will keep rocket flights more frequent, yes?

  • Andi

    “I don’t recall them exerting authority over septic tanks.”

    That’s only because septic tanks aren’t on IoT yet.

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