Why satellite Internet access is more polluting than terrestrial alternatives

For several years now, low-Earth orbit satellite constellations have been growing above our heads. These thousands of satellites are designed to provide Internet access to isolated populations, covering practically the entire surface of the planet.

SpaceX’s Starlink (more than 4,000 satellites already in orbit), Amazon’s Kuiper (more than 3,000) and OneWeb (more than 600) are just a few examples of providers working in this field. However, this way of offering connectivity appears to be much more polluting than traditional terrestrial alternatives.

The activity of these satellites has many negative impacts on the environment, among other things due to the fuel burned by the rockets used to launch them and the resulting emissions. A study by astrophysicists in the United Kingdom and the United States reports that, in all scenarios, over the next five years, CO2 emissions per subscriber will be between 31 and 91 times greater than those generated by equivalent land mobile broadband, according to all hypotheses. study.

It goes without saying that the most powerful solution to reducing this pollution would be to make strategic decisions in the design of rockets and the fuel they carry. This is especially significant since most of the programs studied aim to launch thousands more satellites in the very near future.

Therefore, it is necessary to develop more sustainable technologies, both in the design of rockets and satellites and in the composition of the fuel they transport.

Currently, these satellite constellations are of concern for the environment, and the more satellites are deployed, the more harmful they will be. They are, for example, a source of space pollution.

Each satellite has a life expectancy of just a few years as they cannot be recovered or recycled. At the end of their life, they will disintegrate upon falling back into the atmosphere or wander endlessly in orbit, not to mention the need to replace them with new operational satellites. So much debris and possible space debris can cause significant damage. For example, the repeated destruction of satellites could create new holes in the ozone layer, due to the gases that emanate from the combustion of the aluminum contained in these devices.

Another challenge is to limit the presence of this waste in space. In this sense, several projects have already been announced, with ideas such as sending a satellite to recover several others before exploding them upon re-entering the atmosphere. Another solution would be to launch a kind of refueling service for satellites in orbit. – AFP Relaxnews

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