Space Bubbles: Geoingeeniring to Tackle Climate Change from Space

‘if we think outside the box, we can imagine how to survive and even thrive amid a rapidly changing climate’

Carlo Ratti, 2016.

Rise of the sea levels, melting of glaciers, warming of the oceans, more frequent droughts, storms, heat waves, and wildfires. The consequences of climate change are simply becoming more palpable as the climate crisis worsens over time, and the data is clear about this matter; the rapid acceleration of climate change is bringing the world close to a non-return point.

These abrupt and irreversible changes will put all life forms on Earth at stake and force humans to face unprecedented challenges modifying the current economic and migratory systems. As a result, institutions and scientists around the globe are working on finding solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the so feared climate-related disasters.

View from the sky of a flooded city
Flooding and other extreme weather conditions are becoming more usual.

Some organisations, like NATO, assert that climate change is a race that we can still win. But, be it as it may, the harsh reality is that stemming this tide will take a tremendous fundamental change in all spheres of society — going from economy to transportation and even food production and diet. Still, what if all those efforts weren’t enough to reverse the damage we have done? What if it is too late? Rise of the sea levels, melting of glaciers, warming of the oceans, more frequent droughts, storms, heat waves, and wildfires. The consequences of climate change are simply becoming more palpable as the climate crisis worsens over time, and the data is clear about this matter; the rapid acceleration of climate change is bringing the world close to a non-return point.

These abrupt and irreversible changes will put all life forms on Earth at stake and force humans to face unprecedented challenges modifying the current economic and migratory systems. As a result, institutions and scientists around the globe are working on finding solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the so feared climate-related disasters.

Some organisations, like NATO, assert that climate change is a race that we can still win. But, be it as it may, the harsh reality is that stemming this tide will take a tremendous fundamental change in all spheres of society — going from economy to transportation and even food production and diet. Still, what if all those efforts weren’t enough to reverse the damage we have done? What if it is too late?

The solution could be out in space

Geoengineering could be the answer to the climate emergency; that is to say, the large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s climate using innovative technologies could save us. Behind this idea, there are several transdisciplinary groups of investigators and researchers. One of them is the MIT Senseable City Lab, a team working with emergent technologies to design and develop innovative solutions to improve people’s life.

The group leader, Carlo Ratti, believes that technology could help us beyond the boundaries of Earth to halt climate change in the worst-case scenario. Despite being a radical answer, deploying solar deflectors could be an extremely efficient and safe way to counteract the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

The project has been presented to the world as ‘Space Bubbles’, as it consists of creating a space-based solar shield with inflatable structures. Even though the fundamental concept of creating a ‘space umbrella’ is not new (it was first proposed in 1989), this time, it involves a set of technologies, making it a more viable plan in an emergency and a solid option to consider.

Representation of Space Bubbles. Source: MIT

The Senseable City Lab team has addressed many questions to design the best materials for the bubbles and evaluate the possible long-term effects it could have on the Earth’s ecosystems. This ‘space parasol’ must withstand extreme space conditions, allow an efficient fabrication process, and be wholly reversible.

In this way, they have developed a raft of thin-film silicon and graphene bubbles that would be deployed into outer space. Once out of Earth, they’d be inflated and stretched, reaching the size of Brazil. Consequently, the shield would deflect up to 1.8% of the incident solar radiation, cooling down our planet.  

One of the most significant innovation points is that these bubbles could be manufactured directly in outer space and be positioned immediately after at the Lagrangian Point (between the Earth and the Sun), balancing Earth gravitation, Sun gravitation, and solar pressure. Hence, ‘Space bubbles’ involve an incredible degree of complexity.

Diagram showing the effect of Space Bubbles with 1.8% of the sun light being deflected.
Diagram showing the effect of Space Bubbles. Source: MIT

The project will require vanguard robotics and navigation. Yet, it could be a reasonable solution given the mass-cost effectiveness the low thickness of the reflective films provides. Likewise, the lower usage of resources not only makes the project achievable but also less pollutant, reducing space debris.

The fight agains climate change is not over

While geoengineering constitutes one of the most promising areas of action to effectively diminish the consequences of pollution, there is still no ultimate answer for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that climate change mitigation requires.

The design and proposal of either earth-bounded or space geoengineering projects to react against the climate crisis, strangle carbon emissions and general pollution, and slow down global warming do not mean any efforts should be eased off.

Space Bubbles are, without a doubt, a massive leap in innovation regarding the environmental area and an exciting view on the beneficial impacts of technology. Nevertheless, we should not allow promising-flashy projects like this to distract us from the necessity of continuous work on all levels, including day-to-day activities, to reduce emissions.

In this view, the MIT researchers stress that the Space Bubbles is not a plan to replace the current mitigations efforts. Instead, it was conceived and designed to supplement those plans if the day in which other interventions are not enough arrives.

We cannot forget that the planet’s balance is weak. Therefore, we should undoubtedly take and demand action to gain ground and avoid the disastrous aftermath climate change poses in all ecosystems. A quick global-scale intervention with a strong plan of action and political agreement is more vital than ever.

Post Author: Silvia Sanz Linares

Curious by nature and always on the hunt for new adventures. I was born and raised in sunny Spain, where the Mediterranean showed me the magic of a wholesome life.

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