Elon Musk's Starlink satellites could kill the ozone layer.

It has emerged that the thousands of Starlink satellites launched into orbit by Elon Musk‘s SpaceX company to provide global internet service could kill the Earth’s ozone layer.
Elon Musk's Starlink satellites could kill the ozone layer.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX company is steadily increasing the number of large constellations composed of small satellites like Starlink. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California reveals that when Starlink satellites reach the end of their operational life, they will emit emissions that could harm the ozone layer upon reentry into the atmosphere.

Satellites damaging the ozone layer

Currently, Starlink satellites make up 60% of the 10,000 satellites orbiting Earth. It is anticipated that these satellites will enter the atmosphere and burn up upon reaching the end of their operational life. However, according to researchers, the satellites will do more than just burn up in the atmosphere. Upon reentry, they will burn and produce aluminum oxide as a primary byproduct. These are known catalysts for chlorine activation, which deplete ozone in the stratosphere. This layer helps regulate Earth’s temperature and weakening it allows more solar radiation to pass through.

Of course, researchers are not specifically targeting Starlink satellites, but the largest satellite constellation mentioned by far is Starlink. According to researchers, the number of oxides in the atmosphere increased eightfold between 2016 and 2022, and this number appears to correlate directly with the number of satellites in low Earth orbit.

Researchers have found that the breakup of a typical 250 kg satellite could produce approximately 30 kg of aluminum oxide nanoparticles, which can remain in the atmosphere for decades. It is estimated that the entire satellite population reentering the atmosphere in 2022 will produce about 17 metric tons of aluminum oxide compounds. Furthermore, it is highlighted that this has led to a natural level increase of 29.5% in atmospheric aluminum, with the radical increase in satellite numbers potentially pushing this figure to 360 metric tons in the coming years.

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