The environmental load on the crash areas of the space launch vehicle stages is acceptable. Ecosystems in these zones can be considered background (reference); deep irreversible changes in the state of the environment have not been revealed. These are the conclusions reached by the scientists of the Faculty of Geography of Lomonosov Moscow State University based on the results of the analysis of the data of long-term observations.
Russian scientists were collecting information on the state of the environment in Central Kazakhstan, Altai and the southeast of Western Siberia from 2009 to 2019. As an indicator, they chose the degree of snow pollution with nitrogen-containing substances in the crash regions of the stages of the “Proton” launch vehicle, which launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and operates on highly toxic heptyl. The geographers of Lomonosov Moscow State University were analyzing data in the first half of this year.
“At the crash sites of the first stage of the ‘Proton’ launch vehicle, areas of up to several square meters of chemical contamination of snow with highly toxic heptyl and its less toxic derivatives are formed. In the summer, heptyl, as a highly active substance, oxidizes rapidly, and is rarely detected in the soil. All of that shows that the crash areas of the first stage of the ‘Proton’ launch vehicles launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome cannot be considered ecological disaster zones, since there are no instances of deep irreversible changes in the state of the environment detected there," said the head of the Environmental Security Laboratory of the Department of Landscape Geochemistry and Soil Geography of the Faculty of Geography of MSU Tatyana Koroleva.
In the areas where the second stage fell, geographers did not establish a single fact of snow pollution by components or products of rocket fuel transformation. Here, the content of nitrogen oxides, ammonium and the pH value correspond to the natural background or are significantly below it.
"The crash areas of the second stage of launch vehicles can be considered as background territories for characterizing the concentration levels of nitrogen-containing substances in the snow," said Ivan Semenkov, senior researcher at the Environmental Security Laboratory of the Department of Landscape Geochemistry and Soil Geography, Faculty of Geography, Lomonosov Moscow State University.
The crash areas of the spent stages of carrier rockets are an integral part of the cosmodrome infrastructure, since multistage rockets must be used to launch spacecraft and spacecraft crews into Earth orbit. In Central Kazakhstan, Altai and the southeast of Western Siberia, there are several of the most actively used crash areas for spent first and second stages of rockets launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. This has been one of the main research objects of the Environmental Security Laboratory of the Faculty of Geography of Moscow State University for several decades.
The research results are published in the journal "Lyod I Sneg" (from Rus. “Ice and Snow”).