UCL Department of Geography


The Environmental Impact of Burning Space Debris

15 January 2024

Dr Connor Barker and Dr Eloise Marais presented their findings on megaconstellation satellites and space tourism threatening Earth's atmosphere at the European Space Agency Workshop.

Burning space

Dr Connor Barker and Dr Eloise Marais were invited to present their research on the environmental impact of the space sector at the European Space Agency’s workshop on Understanding the Atmospheric Effects of Spacecraft Re-entry.

The interdisciplinary workshop brought together leading scientists from across the US and Europe to exchange knowledge on the topic of enhancing the ESA’s and regulators’ understanding of the pollution generated when space waste is discarded by burning it through Earth’s atmosphere.

Connor, a Research Fellow in Geography working in Eloise’s group, spoke about the rapid increase in pollution from end-of-life megaconstellation satellites like SpaceX’s StarLink constellation since 2020.

Eloise, an Associate Professor in Physical Geography and lead of the UCL Atmospheric Chemistry and Air Quality Group, discussed the potential for a future space tourism industry to deplete the protective ozone layer, potentially undermining progress achieved with the very successful Montreal Protocol global ban on ozone-depleting substances.

More information

  • Dr Eloise Marais teaches on our MSc Climate Change and MSc Remote Sensing and Environmental Mapping postgraduate courses. 
  • Dr Connor Barker is a Research Fellow specialising in atmospheric chemical modelling and developing emission inventories for satellite megaconstellations at the UCL Atmospheric Composition and Air Quality Group.