“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”Neil Armstrong
This famous quote becomes more relevant with each passing day! The past few years have been crucial for the ‘Space for Earth’ industry as giant conglomerates globally harness satellite power to connect us globally.
But are we building a new network ecosystem sustainably?
Space travel is our future, and harnessing space tech is our present reality! Tech giants are harnessing satellite power to connect us globally. SpaceX’s Starlink, Amazon’s Kuiper, and One Web are some of the many relying on a cluster of satellites in the Low Earth Orbital (LEO) to provide fast and stable internet connections. LEO Satellites pose the benefits of stable networks, reduced infrastructure needs, and reduced deforestation. The biggest benefit was for a war-torn Ukraine when SpaceX’s Starlink provided an internet connection to keep the country connected globally! LEO Satellite clusters have an impressive advantage in how we connect globally and how we will function as a society! This progress, however, has strings attached!
Crowded Orbits and Space Debris
According to UNOOSA, we already have 8,261 satellites orbiting us, and a whopping 3,271 of these belong to SpaceX’s Starlink. To add to this, SpaceX plans on launching 1,500 Starlink satellites yearly to create a 42,000 satellite mega cluster and launch satellites for other companies at $1 million per satellite!
Our orbital space will soon be identical to the traffic conditions in cities like Mumbai or Bengaluru! Excess speeding cluster satellites will lead to collisions, failed satellites falling from orbit, frequent replacement satellite launches, ozone layer damages, and space debris. We’re already seeing these detrimental effects of satellite launches in action.
In late 2021, ISS’s crew had to take shelter in their evacuation spacecraft in response to a collision threat with space debris. Due to its small size and dangerous speed, space debris is largely untrackable. While space debris and possible collisions are a big concern, the most detrimental is the environmental damage.
Rocket fuels to launch satellites are extremely harmful.
Rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellant, solid propellants, and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH), a.k.a, Devil’s Venom are used frequently. According to a United Nations Development Program report, UDMH rocket fuel is responsible for turning a vast area of a Kazakh steppe into an ecological disaster zone and has poisoned the soil of Kazakhstan for decades. The globally renowned NASA’s Space Shuttles launches have also had their fair share of environmental damage. The hydrochloric acid and aluminum oxide left behind from the passive cloud generated during lift-offs killed most aquatic life in nearby water bodies. Small satellites launch vehicles using solid fuel propellants, which burn a mixture of aluminum and ammonia, making them an environmental hazard.
There is also a risk of satellites reentering the atmosphere.
Starlink’s satellites, for example, are made of aluminum, and on re-entry would burn and create aluminum oxide, which will start burning holes in the ozone layer. With the plans of building a 42,000 mega cluster constellation of satellites, there is a high possibility of collisions, space debris, and re-entry of satellites in Earth’s atmosphere, thus damaging the environment and the ozone layer.
LEO Satellites will help connect people globally with stable internet connections, but the detrimental effects of satellite networks far outweigh the benefits. Whether we as a society take the next step in LEO satellite networks sustainably or not is what will determine the future we live in.
This article is written by Anik who comes with 4+ years of experience in the film and web series industry. He specializes in content, communications, and marketing strategies. As a writer, he enjoys deep diving with his work in the Sustainability sector in various industries. When he is not busy writing or strategizing, he enjoys watching films, cooking, and reading novels.