Using the Mesospheric Lithium Layer to Monitor the Atmospheric Impacts of Space Debris


   Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

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  Prof J Plane, Prof D Marsh, Dr W Feng  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The impacts of space debris (defunct satellites, rocket motors etc.) re-entering the atmosphere is of growing societal concern: the satellite launch rate is increasing rapidly and, in order to avoid a buildup of space debris in the near-Earth environment above 400 km, satellite operators are now being required to place spacecraft in relatively low orbits so that re-entry into the atmosphere occurs after 2 – 5 years. The rate of space debris mass entering the atmosphere is thus projected to increase markedly over the next decade. At the present time, this rate is around 3% of the ~30 tonnes of cosmic dust being deposited in the atmosphere each day (Schulz and Glassmeier, 2021) . However, the rate of deposition of particular metals such as Al, Li, Mn and Cu, which are used in the construction of satellites, already exceeds the natural cosmic dust input (Murphy et al., 2023). Li is increasing particularly rapidly because of its use in Li-ion batteries and Li-Al alloys. Space debris tends to ablate (i.e. vaporize) in the atmosphere around 60 km, and so concern is focussing on the impacts of the resulting metal-rich particles on the stratospheric ozone layer and on climate. The objective of this project is to determine whether Li can be used to monitor the rate of ablation of re-entering space debris.

Chemistry (6) Environmental Sciences (13) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

A highly competitive NERC Panorama Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship offering the award of fees, together with a tax-free maintenance grant (currently £18,622 for academic session 2023/24) for 3.5 years.  Training and support will also be provided. This opportunity is open to all applicants.  All candidates will be placed into the NERC Panorama Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.

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