Space tourism companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic could undo the progress in ozone healing. The findings are from new research by UCL, the University of Cambridge, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It says that the soot given off by spacecraft was damaging the ozone layer around the planet. And “retains heat at 500 times the rate of other soot sources.”
According to Study co-author Dr. Eloise Marais of UCL, the spacecraft emissions with aircraft and ground-based sources are likening, thus being “erroneous”. While the findings do say the damage is small, the growing space industry and the increasing launches could change that.
The Ozone layer is part of the atmosphere that has been damaged already because of various human activities. Back in the 1970s, the rule changes were being campaigned by scientists. Which led to banning certain chemicals, which were causing damage to the ozone layer. Since then the holes in the ozone are being repaired, at the higher altitudes mostly.
Now the current research by UCL and MIT considered data from 103 rocket launches in 2019. They also included trips from Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin. It was found that the soot doubled over three years as additional launched were there. Due to added rubber in the fuel and other reasons, the repair done to the ozone is depleting once again.
Ozone layer damage
The team showed that warming due to soot is 3.9 mW m-2 from a decade of contemporary rockets, dominated by emissions from kerosene-fuelled rockets. However, this more than doubles (7.9 mW m-2) after just three years of additional emissions from space tourism launches, due to the use of kerosene by SpaceX and hybrid synthetic rubber fuels by Virgin Galactic.
The fact the soot is expelled in the upper atmosphere increases the damage – the particles being 500 times more efficient at retaining heat than other soot. If space tourism was to go ahead with weekly trips, it would undermine the success of the Montreal Protocol, the research said.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Robert Ryan of UCL, said: “The only part of the atmosphere showing strong ozone recovery post-Montreal Protocol is the upper stratosphere, and that is exactly where the impact of rocket emissions will hit hardest. “We weren’t expecting to see ozone changes of this magnitude, threatening the progress of ozone recovery.” The findings were published in the Earth’s Future journal. The study calls for immediate mitigation practices to regulate the environmental impact of the space launch industry to minimize harm to the stratospheric ozone layer and climate.