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The new space race is causing new pollution problems

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By illuminem briefings

· 2 min read

Illuminem summarizes for you the essential news of the day. Read the full piece on The New York Times or enjoy below:

🗞️ Driving the news: The increase in space activities, particularly by private companies, is raising alarms about the potential pollution of Earth's atmosphere
• As rockets emit various pollutants into the upper atmosphere, scientists are studying their effects on the ozone layer and climate
• This concern is driven by the growing number of launches required to build satellite mega-constellations, which could significantly alter atmospheric conditions

🔭 The context: The increase in rocket launches, driven by companies like SpaceX, Amazon, and Eutelsat OneWeb, aims to create large satellite constellations raising concerns about atmospheric pollution, as rockets emit exhaust containing potentially harmful substances like black carbon
• The current lack of proper understanding of the effects of these substances in the atmosphere and the lack of regulatory oversight on the environmental impact of these emissions highlights a gap between space industry advancements and environmental protection measures

🌍 Why it matters for the planet: Rocket emissions could significantly impact the stratosphere, home to the ozone layer, which protects Earth from harmful solar radiation
• Researchers worry that cumulative rocket exhaust could deplete the ozone layer and affect climate patterns, similar to volcanic eruptions
• This concern is heightened by the potential for an increase in harmful ultraviolet radiation exposure due to ozone degradation

⏭️ What's next: The focus is shifting to quantifying and understanding the environmental impact of rocket emissions
• Scientists suggest potential regulations and innovations in the space industry to mitigate these effects, including limiting the number of launches and altering fuel types
• However, a lack of current regulatory frameworks makes addressing these challenges complex

💬 One quote: "We are changing the system faster than we can understand those changes" (Aaron Boley, astronomer and co-director of the Outer Space Institute)

📈 One stat: In 2023 alone, SpaceX launched nearly 100 rockets, mainly for its Starlink satellite constellation, indicating the rapid escalation of space activities and associated environmental concerns

Click for more news covering the latest on climate change

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