Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Projected Increase in Space Travel May Damage Ozone Layer

Projected growth in rocket launches for space tourism, moon landings, and perhaps travel to Mars has many dreaming of a new era of space exploration. But a new study suggests that a significant boost in spaceflight activity may damage the protective ozone layer on the one planet where we live. 

Kerosene-burning rocket engines widely used by the global launch industry emit exhaust containing black carbon, or soot, directly into the stratosphere, where a layer of ozone protects all living things on Earth from ultraviolet radiation's harmful impacts, including skin cancer and weakened immune systems in humans, as well as disruptions to agriculture and ecosystems.

According to new CIRES and NOAA research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, a 10-fold increase in hydrocarbon-fueled launches, which is plausible within the next two decades based on recent trends in space traffic growth, would damage the ozone layer, and change atmospheric circulation patterns.

"We need to learn more about the potential impact of hydrocarbon-burning engines on the stratosphere and on the climate at the surface of the Earth,” said lead author Christopher Maloney, a CIRES research scientist working in NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory. “With further research, we should be able to better understand the relative impacts of different rocket types on climate and ozone."

Read more from NOAA Research here

CIRES at CU Boulder has partnered with NOAA since 1967.


Christopher Maloney
CIRES and NOAA scientist
Karin Vergoth
CIRES Communications
Theo Stein
NOAA Communications

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