Researchers Assess Impact of Rocket Launch on Earth’s Atmosphere

With the advancement in reusable space technology, there’s been a rise in affordable space transportation. It’s more significant due to spaceflight commercial companies, such as Virgin Galactic and SpaceX. However, a recent study finds the adverse impact of rocket launch emissions. The study states that rocket emissions lead to various compositional and heating changes in the earth’s atmosphere.

Researchers from the University of Nicosia in Cyprus have lately tried to understand the potential impact of rockets’ propulsion emissions on atmospheric pollution. The study published in the journal Physics of Fluids investigates atmospheric mass and heat transfers, along with the quick mixing of combustion byproducts at higher altitudes of up to 67km in the earth’s atmosphere.

Researchers Access Impact of Rocket Launch on Earth’s Atmosphere


According to the co-author Dimitris Drikakis, the researchers modeled the rocket’s exhaust gases. They further formed a plume at distinct altitudes beside the usual trajectory of a standard rocket. It was more like a prototypical example of the two-stage rocket. The models mimic the two-stage rocket for transporting payloads and people into the earth’s orbit and far away.

Their models showed atmospheric pollution created by rocket launches. If it’s underestimated for a long time, future rocket launches could have a serious impact on the earth’s climate. It is because the release of thermal nitrogen oxides (NOx), the combustion exhaust components, can stay for long in ambient atmospheric pressure.

With the rocket climbing up to 1 km in altitude within the mesosphere, the carbon emission becomes equivalent to what’s present in the 26-cubic-kilometers of the atmospheric air at the same altitude.

Researchers Access Impact of Rocket Launch on Earth’s Atmosphere

Image: Scientific American

Hence, in the future, the impact of rocket emission pollution could be significant momentarily and locally in the mesosphere. While the air currents are likely to mix and transport the exhausted CO2 all over the atmosphere, CO2 will eventually come back down to the naturally occurring levels. However, at what scale it would happen is not clear yet. But the gradual accumulation of carbon dioxide in the mesosphere will impact climate change in the future.

Even the World Health Organization has warned about rocket launch emissions’ hazardous impact on human health. In the wake of rising rocket emission pollution, the researchers urge commercial flight companies, like the New Shepard, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX to consider all these effects when designing future rocket launch plans.

Via: Phys

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