Rain from SpaceLight

Using frickin’ lasers on satellites… Image hosted on Wikipedia.

There are smarties out there who knew about this kind of thing already, but I never professed to be a smartie.  And the information in this Motherboard post is quite fascinating.  There is not just one, but TWO proposals for using lasers on satellites to help “adjust” the Earth’s climate.  Captain Planet would be very proud.  And no, no one has mentioned a moon-based laser project headed by Dr. Alan Parsons.

The two proposals were brought into light via the first “Climate Engineering Conference” in 2014.  During a Wednesday session titled “The Potential Role of Space In Climate Engineering Concepts” last week, Isabelle Dicaire presented one proposal–“Space-based Laser Filamentation for Climate Engineering and Weather Modification.”  A very wordy title for a complicated subject:  using LIDAR(Light Detection And Ranging)-equipped satellites to research and possibly guide and affect climate engineering.

Put very simply, LIDAR uses relatively low-powered lasers that lance out from an emitter.  The beam bounces off and back from objects in its path, “lighting up” the object for a light sensor, or receiver, mounted near the emitter to “see.”  (I am very sure there’s a laser scientist or two already typing up some “well, actuallys.”  Apologies!) These reflections can be very fine, with some LIDAR types able to detect aerosol and cloud particles.  Dicaire seems to think that more powerful LIDARs mounted on satellites might be able to make new cloud particles, effectively “seeding” a cloud to make it rain.

The other proposal, brought up during the same session, wants to use lasers to zap greenhouse gas particles into oblivion.  The proposal, titled “Space Based Solar Power for Regenerative Atmospheric Geoengineering and Anthropogenic Pollution Control,” was presented by Dublin City University professor Aidan Cowley.  The theory Cowley is going on is that greenhouse gasses just need a bump in energy to break up the molecules that make them up.  No more greenhouse gas molecules means no more greenhouse gasses.  The lasers doing the zapping would be mounted on satellites, using solar energy as their power supply.

Motherboard does mention some things about political issues that might block the technology from moving forward, but the issue that immediately comes to mind is the militarization aspect.  Some countries might not appreciate having an active laser payload on board satellites.  There would be nothing to prevent a nation from designing a laser that might be used day-to-day for climate engineering, but then up the energy, so to speak, for a strike against opposing satellites.

Another issue would be one of communication and coordination.  There would have to be a very effective and active communications network.  This would help prevent the accidental shooting of satellites that might orbit right in the laser’s view during a particle elimination campaign.  There are existing infrastructures nations use to prevent that kind of thing against friendly assets (such as the Joint Space Operations Center’s Laser Clearinghouse), but the nature of this kind of engineering seems global to me, requiring cooperation among friendly and competitive nations and organizations.

Will these proposals work?  I’m not the guy to ask, but the proposals sound interesting.  Read the Motherboard post to get a better idea.  Lasers from space to make rain and take apart greenhouse gasses.  They’re definitely good examples of why space matters, if they work.

As a side note, and a “well, actually” from me:  Is no one else getting tired of depictions of satellites with “rays” shooting from image sensors, radio receivers, etc., as shown in the Motherboard header?  Especially since they seem to be showing images of the satellite “A-Train?” I know there are people out there, likely marketing types, who think it makes satellites look exciting, but it’s very much like those terrible Air Force Space Command ads, like in the video below, a few years ago–pure fiction.


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