Climate and air quality impact of rockets and space junk

Theme: Earth, Atmosphere & Ocean Processes

Primary Supervisor:

Eloise Marais

Geography, UCL

Eloise Marais's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Neil Rose

Geography, UCL

Neil Rose's Profile Picture

Project Description:

The space sector is poised for unprecedented growth, due to the launch of mega-constellations and interest in space tourism, mining on other planets, and human habitation of Mars. In the past 2-3 years there has already been substantial growth in the frequency of rocket launches, the size of rockets, the number of launch sites, and the amount of satellites launched into orbit. The UK will soon host its first rocket launch from one of seven new spaceports in the country.

Such rapid growth will inevitably lead to an increase in emissions of climate-altering air pollutants and greenhouse gases from rocket launches and also burn-up of discarded rocket parts and spent satellites. It’s crucial that we better understand the impact of these emissions on Earth’s atmosphere, as currently there are no policies in place to regulate a growing source of pollution.

This project will focus on quantifying the influence of the space sector on changes in climate and destruction of the ozone layer that protects us from harmful UV radiation. Specific aims include:
(1) Develop a system for detecting space junk burning through the atmosphere using optical sensors and machine learning.
(2) Detect pollution from rocket launches by mining data from space-based instruments that measure air pollutant concentrations.
(3) Use the detection systems in (1) and (2) to construct an inventory of greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions from rocket launches and burn-up of space junk and implement these in a model to quantify the changes in climate and ozone due to the space sector.

Policy Impact of Research:

Results from this project will be used to inform policy measures needed to reduce harm to the environment from air pollution produced by the space industry.


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