Environmental emissions—the concern for the decade
Power engineering journal
A new generation of satellites for Earth observation and telecommunications are being designed and built with off the shelf components. This is driving down costs and permitting the launch of large satellite swarms with unprecedented spatial and temporal coverage. On-orbit maneuvers are commonly performed using ion thrusters. Mercury is one of the cheapest and easiest to store propellants for electric propulsion. While some mercury released in Low Earth Orbit may escape Earth's gravitational
... 's gravitational field, mercury emissions originating from many common orbital maneuvers will return to Earth. The environmental and human health implications of such releases have not been evaluated. Using an atmospheric chemical transport model, we simulate global deposition of mercury released from satellite propulsion systems. We estimate that 75% of the mercury falling back to Earth will be deposited in the world's oceans, with potentially negative implications for commercial fish and other marine life. Understanding the scale of this novel mercury source in a post-Minamata Convention world is necessary to limit ecosystem exposure to mercury contamination.