CO2 risks space operations

2012-11-12 07:30
A build-up of carbon dioxide in the upper levels of Earth's atmosphere risks causing a faster accumulation of man-made space junk. (Nasa, AP)

A build-up of carbon dioxide in the upper levels of Earth's atmosphere risks causing a faster accumulation of man-made space junk. (Nasa, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - A build-up of carbon dioxide in the upper levels of Earth's atmosphere risks causing a faster accumulation of man-made space junk and resulting in more collisions, scientists said on Sunday.

While it causes warming on Earth, CO2 conversely cools down the atmosphere and contracts its outermost layer, the thermosphere, where many satellites including the International Space Station (ISS) operate, said a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

A contracted thermosphere, in turn, reduces atmospheric "drag" on satellites - a similar force to that experienced when holding one's hand out the window of a moving car.

This "drag" is what causes satellite orbits to change, drawing them closer to Earth, which means that orbiters like the ISS have to boost themselves back on course with on-board engines.

"The observed CO2 increase is expected to gradually result in a cooler, more contracted upper atmosphere and a consequent reduction in the atmospheric drag experienced by satellites," said a statement from the Naval Research Laboratory, which took part in the study.

Earth risk

Commenting on the paper, space expert Hugh Lewis said a cooler troposphere will extend the lifetime of space junk - staying farther out for longer instead of burning up in the lower layers of the atmosphere, closer to Earth.

"Consequently, space junk will accumulate at a faster rate and we will see more collisions between space objects as a result," he said.

"We will also see many more 'near-misses' and these have an important effect on spacecraft operators."

Lewis said there would be no increased risk for us on Earth as the rate at which satellites re-enter would be reduced.

"However, we would see some effects on services provided from space if an important satellite was destroyed by a collision...," he said.

On the positive side, satellites would no longer need to boost themselves back into orbit quite as often, meaning they can carry less fuel.
Read more on:    space  |  climate change

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Millions of plastic particles in our food!

Scientists and researchers believe that almost five million tons of plastic is dumped in the oceans every year and it’s affecting our food.



Plastic on your plate
Prince George the green prince?
Lean, green, drifiting machine
One man's $1 million vision for an eco Africa

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts

Trying to keep time for your social commitments and friendships as well as taking care of work and health obligations can be more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.