Out-of-service satellites must be removed from the Earth's orbit “as soon as practicable and no more than five years following the end of their mission,” according to the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to adopt the draft rule, published earlier this month, relating to all spacecraft that end their lives in orbits at altitudes of 2,000km (1,242 miles) or below. The rule would apply to satellites launched two years after the order is adopted and would include both US-licensed satellites as well as those licensed by other jurisdictions and seeking US market access. Satellites already in space would be exempt.

The previous voluntary Nasa guidelines published in the 1990s allowed operators to wait as long as 25 years to remove the satellites, a timeline that many experts consider too long. 

“25 years is a long time. There is no reason to wait that long anymore, especially in low-Earth orbit,” said Jessica Rosenworcel...