Rosenworcel Proposes Updated Orbital Debris Rules


Updated rules would require satellites to meet specific metrics that limit risk of in-space collisions.

Rosenworcel Proposes Updated Orbital Debris Rules Illustration of satellites and space debris in orbit

WASHINGTON, May 30, 2024 – Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, proposed new orbital debris mitigation rules Wednesday that would require satellite applicants to meet a specific, quantitative metric to limit the risks of accidental explosions.

If the proposed rules are implemented, the FCC would require satellite applicants to evaluate and reduce the likelihood of debris-generating accidental explosions to less than 1 in 1,000, or 0.1%, per satellite.

“We can no longer afford to launch new satellites into our skies without being thoughtful about space sustainability,” said Rosenworcel in a statement. “Our orbital debris mitigation efforts will help preserve the orbital environment to protect services we rely on and allow new services to be launched.”

Lawmakers expect the number of satellites in orbit to continue to increase as more wireless carriers and phone manufacturers continue to build the capability into devices. The FCC’s Third Report and Order aims to reduce the generation of orbital debris. The proposed rules align with U.S. Government Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices, which establishes a benchmark for demonstrating that each satellite operator has assessed the probability of accidental explosions. 

Currently, the FCC regulates orbital debris through its “five-year rule,” which requires that orbiting stations dispose of their spacecraft after the end of their mission. This is an effort to avoid in-space collisions, which increase the amount of debris in earth’s orbit.