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Impact of Rocket Launch and Space Debris Air Pollutant Emissions on Stratospheric Ozone and Global Climate
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  • Robert G. Ryan,
  • Eloise Ann Marais,
  • Chloe J. Balhatchet,
  • Sebastian David Eastham
Robert G. Ryan
University College London

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Eloise Ann Marais
University College London
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Chloe J. Balhatchet
University of Cambridge
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Sebastian David Eastham
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Detailed examination of the impact of modern space launches on the Earth’s atmosphere is crucial, given booming investment in the space industry and an anticipated space tourism era. We develop air pollutant emissions inventories for rocket launches and re-entry of reusable components and debris in 2019 and for a speculative space tourism scenario based on the recent billionaire space race. This we include in the global GEOS-Chem model coupled to a radiative transfer model to determine the influence on stratospheric ozone (O3) and climate. Due to recent surge in re-entering debris and reusable components, nitrogen oxides from ablation and chlorine from solid fuels contribute equally to all stratospheric O3 depletion by contemporary rockets. Decline in global stratospheric O3 is small (0.01%), but reaches 0.15% in the upper stratosphere (~5 hPa, 40 km) in spring at 60-90°N after a decade of sustained 5.6% a-1 growth in 2019 launches and re-entries. This increases to 0.22% with a decade of emissions from space tourism rockets, undermining O3 recovery achieved with the Montreal Protocol. Rocket emissions of black carbon (BC) produce substantial global mean warming of 8 mW m-2 after just 3 years of routine space tourism launches. This is a much greater contribution to global radiative forcing (6%) than emissions (0.02%) of all other BC sources, as warming per unit mass emitted is ~500 times more than surface and aviation sources. The O3 damage and warming we estimate should motivate regulation of an industry poised for rapid growth.