Elephant In The Climate Room: Rocket Launches

As many readers of this blog know, I’ve spent years collecting research and reporting on the climate harms of militarism. When I began this was an obscure perspective shared by few; it is now mainstream in climate movements (as long as they are not controlled by the Democratic Party, that is).

Sept. 17, 2023, New York City. WW PHOTO: Monica Moorehead 
Source: Workers World “Mass march targets Biden for an ‘End to fossil fuels’”  

So it is gratifying to see this fact of modern life represented at last weekend’s big climate march in New York City.

Sept. 17, 2023, New York City. WW PHOTO: Monica Moorehead 
Source: Workers World 

Other points of view also trend in that direction.

Sept. 17, 2023, New York City. WW PHOTO: Marsha Goldberg
Source: Workers World

If capitalism is the root cause of rapidly warming oceans and extreme weather events, then the wars that are necessary to sustain capitalism are implicated.

But what about war in space, which is already well underway even if few realize it? The proliferation of rocket launches in recent years and the accompanying environmental damage are almost never mentioned in reporting on either space topics or military topics.

This coming weekend I’ll attend Maine’s biggest annual green lifestyle event, the Common Ground Fair. It draws thousands from all over the region for a “celebration of country living” sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association.

On Sunday morning in the political and social action tent a group of us will update fairgoers on plans to build a rocket launch site on the coast of Maine. Steuben is within sight of Acadia National Park, and the floating launch pad proposed would sit amid lobster fishing and seaweed harvesting activities already generating jobs and providing sustenance for the last several decades.

The town of Steuben is outlined in red. The proposed launch site would float just off the coast.

The plan is for up to 30 launches each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day of rockets roughly the height of a mature White Pine. 

Noise from tests of the proposed engine developed by blueShift Aerospace in Brunswick is so loud that parents report their child woke up frightened and crying after hearing it in his sleep. Toxic fallout from rocket launches reaches as high as the stratosphere, where soot particles linger and damage ozone. Toxic fallout from rocket launches in other states has polluted wetlands, breeding grounds, and beaches. And when rocket launches fail — as they often do — forests burn and areas several miles wide are littered with debris like concrete.

All rocket site construction involves toxic substances, including the PFAS foam used for fire fighting and stored in vast quantities on site until it may be needed. And when rockets and satellites fall from the sky, they disintegrate into a chemical soup that then falls to Earth. Mass deaths of birds and other animals have been observed at rocket launch sites in other states.

Maine was once considered Vacationland because of its deep forests, clean water, beautiful shoreline, and abundance of foods like lobsters, trout, and clams.

Although organized lobster fishermen in Jonesport blocked the construction of the toxic launch site in their fishing grounds, Steuben has not been so lucky. Resident Larch Hanson is ready to sue blueShift’s CEO for trampling on the democratic process and putting his seaweed harvesting business at risk. The town government of Steuben has squelched discussion of the rocket launch site plan and silenced critics, according to Hanson.

It’s worth noting that a bill rushed through supposedly as “emergency” legislation and passed under the gavel (i.e. without a roll call vote) established a private-public partnership called the Maine Space Corporation to support just this kind of project. So undemocratic methods are a signature of bringing rocket launches to Vacationland.

SOURCE: The Independent “Fire at SpaceX launch site burns 68 acres at protected refuge, killing wildlife

But isn’t space cool? you may ask. And educational?

All space programs are inherently military in nature, no matter what NASA or the University of Maine tell you. Every rocket launch site built on other pristine coasts such as Kodiak, Alaska or Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand was sold to local residents as non-military but once built has been used extensively and repeatedly to launch military satellites. (More details on that here.)

As a retired educator, I know STEM fans will enthuse about how much science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education will be advanced by projects such as this one. STEM educators in Australia are currently excited about how middle school students will be involved in projects connected to nuclear submarines the U.S. is forcing on them despite considerable pushback from the public. 

STEM can be a force for good, but not when it’s used as a cover up for militarizing education and other public resources.

I have been astonished at the lack of interest among environmentalists who I might have expected would oppose building a rocket launch site on the Maine coast. No doubt it’s partly attributable to the slavish reprinting of bluShift press releases as “news” in corporate media. 

I’m hopeful that we can raise some awareness of this issue at the Common Ground Fair this weekend. 

Destroying The Ozone Layer, One Rocket Launch At A Time

Sharing a guest post today by a long time activist around the environmental threats of militarism. (Images added.) Newspapers local to Vandenberg SFB didn’t want to publish this fine op-ed, preferring instead to regurgitate government and corporate press releases that boost militarized space programs.

Vandenberg Space Programs Threaten Santa Barbara

by Nina Beety

 Why is the ozone layer deteriorating despite international action such as the ban on CFCs? The misleading green and blue on NASA’s maps actually signifies low ozone.

The aerospace industry is a major factor. Dallas et al (2020): [O]zone depletion is one of the largest environmental concerns surrounding rocket launches from Earth.” NASA discovered in 2007 that UV-C and UV-B were already reaching the Earth but failed to act. UV radiation is having lethal effects on species now.

Rockets destroy ozone. Rocket emissions from the four principal fuel types “cause prompt and deep ozone loss (approaching 100%) in the immediate plume wake, caused by the radical emissions, over areas of hundreds of square miles lasting several days after launch. These stratospheric ‘‘ozone mini-holes’’ have been well observed in situ by high altitude aircraft plume sampling campaigns.”(Ross et al, 2009) Radicals are oxides of hydrogen, nitrogen, bromine, and chlorine. “Stratospheric ozone levels are controlled by catalytic chemical reactions driven by only trace amounts of reactive gases and particles…A single radical molecule emitted into the stratosphere, for example, can destroy up to ~105 [100,000] ozone molecules before being deactivated and transported out of the stratosphere. ..[D]irect injection into the stratosphere over a limited area (a rocket plume, for example) will cause a prompt, localized, ozone ‘‘hole.’’

Vandenberg is damaging the ozone layer locally over Santa Barbara County now. Yet the Coastal Commission in June quietly approved SpaceX’s expansion there to 36 launches per year, and in September, will likely approve a new Phantom Space Company space complex at Vandenberg and allow 48 rocket launches per year. That’s 1.5 launches per week, and more projects are coming. Commission staff claim their hands are tied.

The shockwave of de-orbiting debris, satellites, and rockets creates nitric oxide which also destroys ozone.

Further, the sun makes ozone and replenishes the ozone layer in the stratosphere, but rocket pollutants there, including exhaust, water vapor, soot, and alumina, block the sun’s rays from repairing the ozone layer. And those rocket byproducts accumulate with every launch, persisting for up to three years before falling out.

Researchers including Martin Ross, Darin Toohey, and James Vedda have repeatedly warned the industry that public awareness could curtail rocket launches.

The long-lived aerospace pollution also acts like an insulating blanket, trapping Earth’s natural and human-made heat from venting into space. This will cause planetary warming and destabilize the climate.

Other serious problems exist. Aerospace pollution and explosions contaminate land, air, water, and ocean, harming wildlife. Nuclear spacecraft are being developed. Orbital congestion has created collision risks. And when rockets and satellites de-orbit, they burn and disintegrate into dust, gases, and flaming debris that fall down; the FCC proposes a 1 in 10,000 casualty risk from fall-out as “acceptable”.

Results of a SpaceX launch fail that caused a forest fire in Texas

Satellite systems also increase RF-EMF radiation exposure globally, damaging health and disrupting wildlife’s ability to navigate by Earth’s natural EMF fields. Bees, insects, and birds are particularly vulnerable. The U.S. Department of Interior warned in 2014 about this radiation’s devastating impacts to birds, and in 2020, a New Mexico 5G “live fire” drill by SpaceX and the military may have killed up to several million birds in the region. Emissions just discovered from SpaceX equipment may also interfere with the magnetosphere and Earth’s natural electric circuit, leading to extreme weather.

Federal and state legislators ignore this toxic reality.

In 2020, there were 2000 satellites total in the sky. By 2021, the number rose to 4800, the FCC approved 17,270 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, with 65,912 more applications pending, while governments and private companies planned an additional 30,947+ (Firstenberg, 2022). More are coming. These numbers don’t include medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites or rockets into space.

LEOs are short-lived, needing frequent replacement. Science author Arthur Firstenberg: “In 2021, there were 146 orbital rocket launches to put 1,800 satellites into space. At that rate, to maintain and continually replace 100,000 low-earth-orbit satellites, which have a lifespan of five years, would require more than 1,600 rocket launches per year, or more than four every day, forever into the future.”  Aleksandr Dunayev of the Russian Space Agency said in 1991: “About 300 launches of the [space] shuttle each year would be a catastrophe, and the ozone layer would be completely destroyed.”

This is a worldwide problem. There is no environmental oversight. That is unacceptable.

It’s long past time to strip back the curtain and expose the aerospace industry, including space tourism and military programs. Those who want to stop climate change and protect the ozone layer and the Earth must take action.

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