The Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) has decided to cancel the controversial balloon test flight aimed to artificially cool the Earth due to growing concerns about its possible harmful effects on the ozone layer and the ecosystem. The flight was planned to launch in June 2021.
Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx), is a scientific experiment to improve understanding of stratospheric aerosols that could be relevant to solar geoengineering. It is a project by Harvard scientists, which aims to fight global warming by mimicking the effect of volcanic eruptions to artificially cool the planet.
The project entails launching a high-altitude balloon to test its ability to carry a gondola with 600 kg (1 322 lbs) of material about 20 km (12 miles) high and release them in an effort to dim the sunlight by reflecting the radiation to space.
"SCoPEx builds on four decades of research on the environmental chemistry of the ozone layer in the Anderson/Keith/Keutsch groups. SCoPEx will use or adapt many of the high-performance sensors and flight-system engineering experience developed for this ozone research," according to the Keutsch Group at Harvard.
"Measuring the ways that aerosols alter stratospheric chemistry can, for example, improve the ability of global models to predict how large-scale geoengineering could possibly disrupt stratospheric ozone. Outdoor experiments can provide in situ perspective that is impossible to obtain in the laboratory and SCoPEx can help us validate important model parameters that have yet to been tested against measurements," the team explained.
Other private donors, including Bill Gates, have expressed their intent of support to this program. However, several environmental groups and critics raised their concern about the project's possible harmful effects on the ozone layer and the ecosystem, saying the method could be risky and dangerous for the planet.
Following the decision of experts, state-owned Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) has called off the high-altitude balloon test on March 31. In a statement, the SCoPEx Advisory Committee officially announced the recommendation to postpone the test.
"The Committee has recommended to Harvard and the research team that any equipment test flights in Sweden need to be suspended until the Committee can make a final recommendation about those flights based on a robust and inclusive public engagement in Sweden."
"The Committee will conduct a listening-based engagement activity in Sweden in order to help the Committee understand Swedish and Indigenous perspectives and make an informed and responsive recommendation about the equipment test flights."
Johanna Sandahl, president of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, said she was relieved with the decision. "It’s a rejection of a technology with the potential for extreme consequences that could alter hydrological cycles, disrupt monsoon patterns and increase drought."
David Keith, a professor of applied physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a member of the SCoPEx project, remarked that Sweden's move was "a setback".
The team said it would use the coming months to try to gather support for an eventual test. If the project will be blocked in Sweden, Keith told Reuters that it could move to the United States likely in 2022.
"To conduct this engagement, we have recommended that the research team postpone the proposed platform launch until the Committee can complete the societal review. This will likely postpone the platform launch until 2022. We will continue to communicate updates in the coming weeks as this engagement process is defined."
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