Aluminum oxide impacts: “All the satellites could crack open the ozone layer”

From Popular Mechanics
June 17, 2021
By Caroline Delbert

“We have 54 tonnes (60 tons) of meteoroid material coming in every day,” lead study author Aaron Boley told “With the first generation of Starlink, we can expect about 2 tonnes (2.2 tons) of dead satellites reentering Earth’s atmosphere daily. But meteoroids are mostly rock, which is made of oxygen, magnesium and silicon. These satellites are mostly aluminum, which the meteoroids contain only in a very small amount, about 1 [percent].”

Aluminum is key to everything at stake here. First, it burns into reflective aluminum oxide, or alumina, which could turn into an unwitting geoengineering experiment that could alter Earth’s climate. And second, aluminum oxide could damage and even rip a new hole in the ozone layer. Let’s look at each threat separately and try to figure it out.

…What, then, of the ozone layer? Once again, aluminum oxide comes to the forefront. As aluminum burns, it can chemically react with ozone in the air to form aluminum oxide, thereby depleting the naturally protective supply of ozone in the atmosphere. The atmosphere can absorb a small amount of these chemicals without ill effect, but with tens of thousands of satellites in play, the quantities will naturally go up.

That’s in addition to the ozone damage done by each rocket launch to put satellites into LEO. “Rockets threaten the ozone layer by depositing radicals directly into the stratosphere, with solid-fueled rockets causing the most damage because of the hydrogen chloride and alumina they contain,” the researchers write.

While satellites typically dissolve above the stratosphere where most ozone is contained, the particulate can drift down into the stratosphere in order to react there with ozone, scientist Gerhard Drolshagen, an expert on meteoroid material, told Aluminum oxide will sink to that level and subsequently cause losses.

For complete article:

Study referred to is–
Boley, A.C., Byers, M. Satellite mega-constellations create risks in Low Earth Orbit, the atmosphere and on Earth. Sci Rep 11, 10642 (2021).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: