Rutherford Discovery Fellow and planetary scientist UC senior lecturer Dr Michele Bannister. Credit: University of Canterbury
University of Canterbury (UC) researchers have summarized the threats that future rocket launches would pose to Earth’s protective ozone layer, in a new review article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
The ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, was severely damaged in the 1980s and 1990s due to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—chemicals used in aerosols and refrigeration. Thanks to coordinated global action and legislation, the ozone layer is now on track to heal this century.
Rocket launches emit both gases and particulates that damage the ozone layer. Reactive chlorine, black carbon, and nitrogen oxides (among other species) are all emitted by contemporary rockets. New fuels like methane are yet to be measured.
“The current impact of rocket launches on the ozone layer is estimated to be small but has the potential to grow as companies and nations scale up their space programs,” Associate Professor in Environmental Physics Dr. Laura Revell says.
“Ozone recovery has been a global success story. We want to ensure that future rocket launches continue that sustainable recovery.”
Global annual launches grew from 90 to 190 in the past 5 years, largely in the Northern Hemisphere. The space industry is projected to grow more rapidly: financial estimates indicate the global space industry could grow to US$3.7 trillion by 2040.
“Rockets are a perfect example of a ‘charismatic technology’—where the promise of what the technology can enable drives deep emotional investment—extending far beyond what the technology also affects,” Rutherford Discovery Fellow and planetary scientist…
2023-02-04 10:20:01 Upsurge in rocket launches could impact the ozone layer
Link from phys.org Environmentally speaking, this has been a big year for rocket launches. Space exploration is no longer a dream, as many countries and private companies have been rapidly developing technology to launch into space. Yet what comes with this progress brings a worrying consequence; the potential damage to the ozone layer.
Ozone is a highly reactive form of oxygen and acts as Earth’s protective shield, helping protect the planet from the Sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Nevertheless, with so many launches into space, these protective elements are being threatened.
A single launch into space could affect the ozone layer for a minimum of two days, mainly through an increase of nitrogen oxide, methane and CFC, which react with ozone molecules, seemingly weakening its protection.
The use of liquid hydrogen has also been linked to damage in the ozone layer. During a mission, the temperatures drop sub zero, from which hot charged particles, protons and electrons are released, creating very adverse effects on the ozone layer.
While the technology of space travel is still quite new, there have been some progressive initiatives to reduce their effects. For example, NASA and private companies have been using new materials, such as mineral-based pressure, to replace CFC and hydrocarbons to reduce the damage emitted in the form of nitrous oxide.
These initiatives are continuously spreading the word on reducing ozone depletion. To ensure the safety of Ozone layers, more research needs to be conducted to find innovative ways of protecting the planet from all forms of launch.
Governments must follow the steps of private companies and space programs by continuing to use green fuel alternatives and developing new technologies. If this technology is properly implemented, space exploration shouldn’t cause any further damage to the ozone layer, with the potential to repair what has already been damaged.
To sum up, the recent surge in rocket launches could affect the ozone layer and the environment, if action is not taken to considerably reduce the damage emitted. Therefore, governments must continue to support green fuel initiatives and research, until we have a technology that is capable of running without damaging the ozone layer.