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12 March 20243 minute read

FCC’s 20 Years of Orbital Debris Mitigation open house: Top points

On February 29, 2024, the FCC Space Bureau (Bureau), as part of its Transparency Initiative, hosted an open house highlighting the agency’s “20 Years of Orbital Debris Mitigation” efforts.

Following a retrospective of the Commission’s first orbital debris rules adopted in 2004, the first of two panels discussed current FCC rules and common issues with applications, such as failing to: 

  • Identify how the operator plans to track the satellite (and whether tracking will be active or passive)

  • Provide the steps the operator will take in responding to in-orbit conjunction warnings, including whether the operator plans to share ephemeris data with the 18th Space Control Squadron or successor entity, and

  • Provide sufficient information detailing the end-of-life disposal for the space station, including design-for-demise efforts.

The Bureau also raised the importance of providing concrete details when discussing these topics in the application, including a general plan and specific steps that the operator would take to address orbital debris mitigation.  The Bureau emphasized that applicants should start thinking about orbital debris mitigation early in the design phase to avoid regulatory hurdles. 

The second panel focused on current and future policy and covered a wide range of topics.  For example, as part of this discussion, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Space Commerce (OSC) discussed its development of a free and basic space situational awareness safety service to all space operators, the Traffic Management System for Space (TraCSS), which is expected to be released as a beta version in October.  

The OSC also discussed its plan to release a request for information on private remote sensing satellite disposal and debris mitigation, seeking comment on whether the Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs division of the OSC should implement its own sustainability requirements for remote sensing licensees that are not otherwise seeking US licensing of their space systems through the FCC.  The request for information was published on March 8, 2024, and comments are due on April 8, 2024. 

If you have questions about the Bureau’s Transparency Initiative or related matters, please contact the Telecommunications or Space Exploration and Innovation team at DLA Piper.  For general information about space safety and sustainability efforts to address orbital debris challenges, our report reviews developments in key jurisdictions and considers global objectives and the interests of commercial stakeholders.