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New rules had a need to fix growing space debris problem, FCC says

rocket launching into the sky with the sun shining nearby

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with the rising sun to transport 53 Starlink internet satellites to orbit from Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida on, may 18, 2022.(Image credit: SpaceX)

It is time to modernize the fight space junk, U.S. regulators say.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is pledging to update the guidelines it enacted just 2 yrs ago to handle space debris, with a fresh concentrate on in-spaceservicing assembly and manufacturing (ISAM) risks and opportunities.

“We believe the brand new space age needs new rules,” FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel said within an Aug. 5 statement (opens in new tab). Existing regulations, she added, were generally “created for a period when likely to space was astronomically expensive and limited by the prowess of our political superpowers.”

Rosenworcel remarked that megaconstellations and crowdfunded satellites weren’t possible in the 1950s when space exploration first began. Having said that, the brand new push piggybacks off an identical space debris effort that the FCC publicized a lot more recently, in 2020 (opens in new tab).

Related: The Kessler Syndrome and the area debris problem

That 2020 update was reported to be probably the most comprehensive revision to space debris rules in a lot more than 15 years, tackling regulations for U.S. satellite applicants to reveal collision risk, the likelihood of safe disposal and possible casualty risk, among other measures.

These times, the FCC has increased discussion around ISAM capabilitiesthat could increase or help address the a large number of bits of junk clustering in Earth’s orbit, with respect to the situation.

The FCC says (opens in new tab) ISAM might be able to assist emerging technology in satellite refueling, fixing old spacecraft, debris capture or repurposing old satellites. Nonetheless it warns that making things in space may generate debris alone, saying the problem requires more discussion and, down the road, enforcement of a couple of rules.

“It’s crucial that, once we consider crafting orbital debris mitigation rules for U.S satellite providers, that people ensure exactly the same or similar obligations connect with ISAM providers along with other space operators,” FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington said another Aug. 5 statement (opens in new tab).

Space junk has featured in plenty of news coverage lately, particularly with regards to a Russian anti-satellite test in November 2021 that generated a fresh plume of debris which has since generated “squalls” of close encounters in orbit.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has received criticism for the orbital debris risk presented by its fast-growing Starlink constellation, even though company maintains that its satellites can maneuver autonomously in order to avoid collisions.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is really a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to greatly help others explore the universe. Elizabeth’s on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from the simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada’s Carleton University. Elizabeth can be a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got thinking about space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, but still really wants to be an astronaut someday.

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