The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed cutting the period low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites can remain in circulation after they cease being used in an attempt to minimise collision risk as the number of birds launched continues an upward trajectory.
Under the potential new measures, operators licensed by the agency or serving the US market would be required to dispose of expired items within five years, though they will be pushed to do this as soon as possible.
Current FCC guidelines recommend disposal 25 years after use. Explaining its latest proposal, the FCC stated it no longer believes it is “sustainable to leave satellites in LEO to deorbit over decades”.
The FCC plans to offer waivers for those conducting specific research or scientific missions, alongside birds already in orbit. It plans to hold a vote on its proposal at its next open meeting, scheduled for 29 September.
In the document it noted “defunct satellites, discarded rocket cores and other debris now fill the space environment”.
It added projections of further growth in LEO satellites, including those being used by the mobile industry, meant a greater risk of collisions moving forward.
The provisional rules come at a time of increased interest in satellite connectivity from operators and handset manufacturers, with a rising number of players in the space sector planning to provide capacity and connectivity from their own constellations.