MIT’s space bubble to fight climate change

In an attempt to stop global warming and reverse its impact, a group of MIT researchers are exploring the idea of ​​fighting climate change using a common geoengineering variant of a “bubble” sun shield. space” which would float above the Earth to block and reflect the sun’s rays without risk of interference with the terrestrial biosphere. The Space Bubbles Research Project proposes to build a floating “raft” of frozen bubbles made of a thin film material that can be fabricated in space.

Rooted in the ideas of scientist James Early, who first suggested deploying a deflecting object at the Lagrange point, and astronomer Roger Angel, who proposed the bubble raft, these bubbles when interconnected would cover a area as large as the size of Brazil, will float at the Lagrange point L1. It is the stable point in outer space where the gravitational pull of the Earth equals that of the sun.

One of the main reasons for climate change is the greenhouse effect which traps incoming solar radiation from the sun in the atmosphere, thus causing a further increase in temperature. The idea was to find a solution that should not interfere with the Earth’s atmosphere but complement current climate change mitigation efforts.

“Geoengineering could be our last and only option,” said Ratti, who directs MIT’s Senseable City Lab. “Yet most geoengineering proposals are earth-bound, posing enormous risks to our living ecosystem.”
“Space-based solutions would be safer. For example, if we deflect 1.8% of incident solar radiation before it reaches our planet, we could completely reverse current global warming.”

Apart from its non-interfering property, another advantage of this particular type of visor is its reversibility, i.e. the bubbles can be deflated and removed from their position and then can be re-inflated. The most promising material for building such spheres would be silicon, transported into space in molten form, or graphene-enhanced ionic liquids.

A successful preliminary experiment is already performed by the MIT team where a spherical shell is inflated under space conditions and is considered to be one of the most efficient thin-film bubble-like structures in deflecting incoming solar radiation.

For now, the project is only a working hypothesis, but the interdisciplinary team hopes to receive support to conduct a feasibility study that would involve further experimentation and analysis of these shields under various conditions. This will help identify the right structure as well as the materials that would be shipped from earth for the creation of such space bubbles. It will also help understand shield positioning and stabilization, shading effectiveness, cost effectiveness, maintenance and end-of-life transition, climate and ecosystem impact, and implications for public policies.

One such public policy debate is whether geoengineering such a space bubble would undermine the ongoing effort to curb the burning of fossil fuels and might encourage people to view abandoning fossil fuels as less important.

Even though geoengineering has proven controversial, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) has considered it a necessary alternative, in case we fail to control the increase in temperature to a manageable level.

Other geoengineering proposals under consideration include:-

1. Suck carbon dioxide from the air,

2. Pumping gas into the stratosphere to reflect some of the incoming solar radiation,

3. Brighten sea clouds to make them more reflective, and

4. Modify the earth’s albedo with white roofs or reflective coatings for deserts.

(Disclaimer: The views of the author do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also does not endorse the views of the author.)

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