Space Launches : A Threat to Atmosphere
To the best of our knowledge, the Earth is the only planet in our Solar System that supports Human Life. Actually, it is not the human alone, but it supports all forms of life and Life Building Blocks, the live cells of plants and animal origins. Mythological vernaculars in our olden books mention that the numerous forms of living beings are made up of just five basic elements…Earthen soil, water, fire, air and the cosmos. The five elements in optimum proportions that may be conducive for life, exist only on our planet Earth. With optimum proportions, we understand that our soil has all those elements and compounds essential for forming and sustaining a live-being. Water is an absolute necessity. Fire (or the environmental temperature) need to be just enough that life can sustain and grow. Air is available in optimum pressure and composition (having Oxygen) that life can sustain. Last but not the least, our body or the entire live-being on the Earth are also having the cosmic elements…be that gravity, Sunlight, radiations and other invisible forces incl spiritual elements, our souls.
The intention of this article is not to dwell or argue over the correctness of the “Panch-Tatva (five elements)” as the genesis of life but how to keep our environmental system esp the atmosphere intact. Environmentalists the world over are much concerned about the rising temperature of our planet and rightly so. Many movements have started by the 'Climate activist' groups. There have also been concerns of the depleting ozon layer causing harmful radiations to penetrate to the surface of Earth. However, we seem to be selectively indifferent to the harm inflicted to the Earth's 'Atmospheric Blanket' by the various rocket launched to the space, especially the larger and wider ones.
Scientists have started getting basic understanding of the science of our planet. Our atmospheric cover is a fine balance among Earth’s gravity, its soil/crusts, its magnetic shield, the surface temperature, Solar energy and the vacuum of space. The gravity that retains atmospheric blanket around, has several variables. Earths’ mass, density, diameter, gravity, rotation, magnetic field, surface temperatures…all may be relevant in the holding of the atmospheric blanket. Farther the extent of atmosphere, greater could be the losses. Our soil must be having enormous capability to replenish the lost air in to space. Its magnetic field shields atmosphere from the ablative solar and galactic flares as well as protects our lives from the harmful radiations. Its temperature has potential to outward expand the atmosphere increasing its losses in to the vacuum of space.
It is claimed and believed by many scientists that ~90 tons of atmosphere is lost to the space daily. These many tons of air must be replenished by earth daily otherwise, the total mass of air, atmospheric pressure in turn, would have shrunken by now to naught over the billions of years of the existence of earth and atmospheric pressure would have gradually depleted. In the recent many centuries since when scientific measurements have come in to force, no drop in pressure has been recorded. Hence, the atmosphere lost in the vacuum of space must be continuously been regenerated by the soil/crust of the Earth having all its components incl nitrogen, oxygen, water vapour, carbon dioxide and other trace gasses. If that be so, it has to be at the cost of its continuously depleting mass of the crusts/soil/water. If the mass of the Earth depletes, its gravity will also deplete. Whether that is happening, we really don’t know. We don’t have millennia of gravity or atmospheric pressure data to compare with.
What holds the atmosphere to the surface of the Earth is very difficult to say. It could be gravity but then… near similar gravity of some other planets to that of the Earth have highly disproportionate atmospheric pressures. Could it be the magnetic field of the Earth that has significant protection against atmospheric losses? Possibly yes. There are also theories that the hydroxyl bonds in air retain the atmospheric blanket. But what about the atmospheric pressure? Is it only the function of the column of air under gravity? Could it be the composition of gas that determines atmospheric pressure? The Earth Scientists and the Physicists may tell us for sure. Lesser the capacity of the Earth to hold atmospheric blanket firmly (fo whatever reasons), the greater will be loss of air in to the vacuum of space. Besides, many cosmic events may also ablate the atmospheric blanket around our planet.
Relationship among various parameters of the planets in the Solar system also seems to be very mysterious, defying some of the known logic; or maybe we know very little to comprehend the cosmic science and events applicable in them. The atmospheric pressure on planets does not seem to be universally related or applicable to the parameters of diameter, mass, density, gravity, temperature, rotation and so on as could have been expected. Most of us tend to apply scientific logic of gravity and Atmospheric pressure but as can be seen in the table below, it is not. Otherwise Venus, Saturn and Uranus could have had similar or comparable atmospheric pressures as that of Earth as shown in the table below. Planetary rotations of the planets are shown in red, represent counter-clock (to Earth) west-ward rotation.
It would have been reasonable to relate the presence and quantum of atmospheric pressure to be directly proportional to the size, mass, gravity and the magnetic fields (Venus has no magnetic field but has 92 bar of Atm pressure). Rotation and surface temperature of the planet too could have an impact on the atmosphere but it is not. Greenhouse effect may have different effects… one being the expansion of the atmosphere as per Charles law from where gaseous losses in to the space could become easier. There is apparently only one correlation of planetary parameters that is apparent, in their mass, diameter and gravity as shown in the graph below. It follows a similar trend.
It must be remembered that there is a very fine balace between our atmospheric pressure and the vacuum of space. One bar of atmospheric pressure at the surface of the Earth keeps gradually decreasing with altitude and the pressure drops to near zero at the imaginary Karman's line, the boundary of the Space. At those altitudes there are no pressure gradient between the extremely thin atmosphere and Space that could push out the precious air which is in molecular forms, in random motion. Fewer molecules gaining kinetic motions for various reasons to escape. Some literatures mention ionic forms of some elements acquiring extremely high velocities which if oriented away from Earth, may escape in to Space. However, for some reason, if a transient pressure is created at those altitudes, it could ablate a significant of atmospheric air in to the vacuum of space. These transient pressure could be created by the 'Shock Waves' of the rocket launches at very high speeds that this article intends to highlight.
Creation of shock waves may have a direct impact on partial ablation of the atmosphere. In this regard, most if not all rockets propelling towards space, have enormous shock waves and Eddies that could push out varying quantities of the atmospheric gases out in to the vacuum of space. Among the gases lost, damages to the ozone layer are the most damaging. The extent of the shock-waves and the eddies are directly proportional to the maximum cross-section area of the rocket-payload combination, Speed of the rocket at Karman’s line, angle of the rocket and the Eddie-current formed behind it.. For these reasons, heavy / super-heavy rockets pose a much greater threat to our atmospheric cover. Besides, the heavy rockets also pollute the environment a lot with highly toxic exhaust gases.
There are some agencies that occasionally study the impacts of Space rocket launches, to the atmosphere. In one such study, a Falcon 9 rocket of SpaceX was detected to have created a Shock wave of the size of 4 times of the State of California in the upper atmosphere. That must have been huge. The atmospheric losses in to the vacuum of space must have been huge. The environmentalists and Earth-Scientists and activists the world over should rightly get alarmed with such impacts of Space launches. One may only guess the impacts of heavier rocket launches by the Chinese (their Long March rockets) and SpaceX (Starlink). Larger shock-waves created below the Karman's line will be more dangerous to the atmosphere as that will push out (ablet) larger mass as compared to the shock-waves above.
However, if the speeds of the larger rockets are designed to remain sub-sonic below Karman's line, no shock wave will be created. Thus there will be minimal atmospheric losses, if at all. All Space agencies and their regulators may like to lay down a strict regulation in this regard. It is possible for the rockets/spacecrafts to exit the atmospheric blanket at the sub-sonic speeds without creating shock wave and then accelerate to the Orbital Velocities or Escape velocities as the case may be.
Similarly, any significant mass of cosmic or man-made objects hitting the upper atmosphere at very high speeds could have Splash effect on the atmospheric fluid. Cosmic objects like comets or meteors hitting the upper atmosphere or even rockets, missiles and spacecraft making the atmospheric re-entry at phenomenal speeds of 15-30 Mach, are capable of splashing out significant amount of atmosphere lost for ever in to the vacuum of space.
Atmospheric losses due to Shock wave and Splash Effects are something that take place due to every rocket, spacecraft and ballistic missiles launches. It must be making dent and holes in our protective atmosphere that not many people or agencies are talking about. The author of this article is certainly naïve in the complex subject of Earth-Science but the questions raised are genuine that every terrestrial inhabitant will be concerned about. Since there is no penalty clause on the environmentally damaging space launches, the offenders are going scout-free.
While environmentalists the world over are rightly concerned about the climate changes, very few are aware of the multiple holes that the heavier and mightier rockets and missiles are drilling in our atmosphere as explained above. The authors’ effort to sensitize the subject through articles and on social media has evoked very little response. All super-powers and space agencies involved with space explorations would like to see these issues be swept under the carpet for as long as possible. Time has come when all activists of environment must come together and take effective steps unitedly so as to make our Earth, the only inhabitable planet to the best of our knowledge in the cosmos, a safer place to live. None should be allowed to damage the atmospheric cover of the Earth.