July 21, 2024

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Satellite constellations like Elon Musk’s Starlink could deplete Earth’s ozone layer, the study says

Satellite constellations like Elon Musk’s Starlink could deplete Earth’s ozone layer, the study says

A new study suggests that Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites could damage Earth’s protective ozone layer when they fall out of orbit.

Large satellite constellations, such as SpaceX’s Starlink, spew copious amounts of aluminum oxide gas into the atmosphere, potentially depleting the ozone layer, according to research published last week in the journal. Geophysical Research Letters.

SpaceX has launched more than 6,000 satellites and counting, with each new model getting heavier.

Researchers from the University of Southern California say that these satellites are designed to burn up in the atmosphere when their service life ends.

The study says that aluminum oxides deplete ozone by causing it to react destructively with chlorine.

Researchers warn that the oxides could remain in the atmosphere and destroy the ozone layer for decades.

“Only in recent years have people begun to think that this might become a problem,” says Joseph Wang, one of the study’s authors.

“We were one of the first teams to consider the implications of these facts.”

SpaceX has launched more Starlink satellites

Scientists are particularly concerned because the demand for global Internet coverage is leading to increased launches of small communications satellites.

The ozone layer in the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun, which can cause skin cancer when exposed to them, and even disrupt crop production and food production.

“The environmental impacts of satellite returns are currently poorly understood,” scientists say.

A small satellite produces about 30 kg of aluminum oxides when it burns.

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In 2022 alone, falling satellites may have contributed as much as 17 tons of tiny aluminum oxide particles, researchers say.

When all currently planned satellite constellations are built, scientists estimate, more than 350 tons of aluminum oxides will be released every year.

This is a massive increase of about 650 percent over normal atmospheric levels.

SpaceX alone has permission to launch another 12,000 Starlink satellites, while Amazon and other tech giants also plan to launch thousands of satellites in the coming years.

“As recidivism rates increase, it is necessary to further explore the concerns highlighted by this study,” the researchers say.