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Guest: Dr. Martin Ross; Topics: The space industry and the atmosphere, climate change, ozone layer, space compared to aviation, reentry, launch, stratosphere, creating dust in the atmosphere, research models.
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We welcomed Dr. Martin Ross to the program to discuss the effects of climate change on the space industry, how rockets and reentry vehicles or debris impact the middle atmosphere creating dangerous "dust" plus we took a look at the current research and talked about possible mitigation strategies. Dr. Ross started the discussion by introducing us to the problem, large LEO constellation concerns, and dust particles in the high atmosphere being created by space debris reentering the atmosphere He said nothing really burns up and then he explained how the dust was created in this process and why it was of concern as reentry particles entering under high heat vaporize creating the dust like particles. Regarding the dust, our guest talked about meteoritic dust and also mineral dust. Given what usually burns up in the atmosphere coming in from space, Martin zeroed in on metallic dust and vaporization. Don't miss this part of the discussion. He told us the dust vapor stays in the upper atmosphere but was not well circulated. This opened the door for him to fully explain the nature of the problem for the space industry.
Our guest jumped ahead to introduce us to the dust issue in the 1990s regarding Solid Rocket Motors and how the problem got resolved. Be sure to listen to this story which involved flights through the plumes in the stratosphere to see what was actually being expelled into the atmosphere. After this story, Todd sent in our first email for the evening wanting to know if the launch companies were working on mitigating the problem. Don't miss his answer and what he said needed to be done going into the future. Marty paused to mention and thank Leonard David who I said at the first of the show introduced me to Marty. He said Leonard was at the forefront in discussing and bringing this issue to the attention of the space community and the importance of these issues for pLEO (proliferated LEO). Marshall was our first caller and asked about debris falling from space every day. Listen to how both Marty and Marshall framed the questions and responses in context to our discussion. Work the math provided to get a full understanding of what we were talking about. Before moving on, I asked about the solar wind and solar cycle impacting dust problems given how the sun heats up LEO and other segments of the atmosphere or cools it. Our guest then spoke quite a bit about the solar cycle, especially for LEO.
Understanding climate change impact for the space industry was a large part of our discussion. Don't miss what our guest said about long term trends and percentages. Also mentioned were the research models used in the analysis our guest was talking about. He mentioned NOAA work being done in Boulder plus various climate models. He said they used to fly planes through the exhaust plumes about 20 years ago. He thought that it would be a good idea to return to some of the practical research he just cited as an example. Other topics included rocket engine soot, methane, kerosene, and an emission index.
Listener Jerry wanted to know about the research and the work being done by other nations. Marty talked about the European effort that does look to the future saying that ESA had an organized research effort underway. As for the US, he said we were not organized and that we should "step up to the plate." Don't miss what he said about China without mentioning China by name. Randy brought up human spaceflight. Marty said there was a big difference with human spaceflight because nothing burns up or vaporizes in the atmosphere. Don't miss all of what he said regarding human spaceflight concerns.
Later in the problem our guest took a multiple type question about SpaceX and Starlink. He said the question was loaded with landmines but he still provided us with comments and answers. First, he talked about the environmental case with ViaSat and the FCC against Starlink. His information was limited but listen to what he had to say. In terms of the LEO giant constellations, he said that the total LEO mass was a likely challenge but that all the systems on a global base for LEO were together challenging. At this point Barbara from Houston sent our guest an email asking how one could lessen the risk and problems. Marty went back to some of the earlier propellant comments.
Our guest was asked to compare aviation with the space industry and the emerging potential of an SST becoming operational. We had a great discussion on all of this so don't miss it. For more on the SST, listen to the Hotel Mars program from Wednesday, June 9 with Alan Boyle evaluating the SST for us. I asked Marty if investors were showing concern for what we had been talking about on the program. He said the aviation industry was alert and options were being considered and engineered. Again, he mentioned propellants and carbon neutral fuels for aviation as well as space. Our guest then talked about the FAA for both launches and aviation. He did mention the launch license process that does require an EIR. Another point he made was in telling us about the latitude effect. Another listener asked if these issues were widely discuss within the industry. Marty talked about AIAA and other conferences that do have programming and sessions addressing these questions. Once again our guest summarized the research, AI uses, work on fuels, doing cost benefit analysis plus he talked about a carbon tax after launch and decarbonization.
As we were moving toward the end of the program, Carol asked if anyone had ever run the numbers to see how a Saturn 5 launch would check out with today's analysis and standards. Our guest loved the question so do listen to all of what he said about Saturn 5 launches plus launching big and heavy launchers today, especially lots of them. He also talked about the hopes and desires of the space cadets/enthusiasts for the future. As we were nearing the end of the program, Marty introduced us to GEO engineering. Briefly this suggests inserting reflective chemicals in the stratosphere to combat warming on the Earth, reflect heat and do some cooling. He explained there were ethical considerations about doing this but that every time a rocket launched it was putting some reflective material in the stratosphere. For sure you want to hear this discussion. We ended the program talking about models, a laundry list of the research to do and the role of advocacy in expanding us to the Moon and in realizing off Earth limits without chemicals used for launch. He concluded by saying that for space cadets, "how crazy can we grow and still be sustainable." He said we don't yet have this information.
Please post your comments/questions for Dr. Martin Ross on our blog for this show. You can reach our guest through me or The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, CA.