Atmospheric Pollution from Rockets

Ioannis W. Kokkinakis and Dimitris Drikakis
University of Nicosia

Commercial space flights will continue to rise as reusable space vehicle technology will allow space transportation at a low cost. This is also evident by the recent flights of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and the New Shepard space ships. The paper shows that pollution from rockets should not be underestimated as frequent future rocket launches could have a significant cumulative effect on climate.

Objectives of the study

  • To develop a high-order CFD simulation framework for studying rockets exhaust plumes

  • To investigate the immediate mixing and heat-transfer of the combustion by-products for altitudes up to 67 km into the atmosphere

  • To assess the potential impact of a rocket launch on atmospheric pollution

  • To stimulate future studies into the above topics that research is still in its infancy

What Does This Mean?

  1. The impact of rockets exhaust gases on the atmosphere is a crucial factor requiring careful consideration in the design of future rocket launches
  2. The insight into the gas dispersion into the atmosphere is crucial for appreciating the scale of pollution
  3. Microphysical parameters, such as the emitted alumina particles distribution and the chlorine activation rate constant, need further investigation. This is considered essential because alumina-related global ozone loss could be tenfold more significant than presently assumed
  4. All the above could have longer-term implications for the earth’s climate.

Atmospheric pollution from rockets

Read the full paper
Read the full paper

Non-Technical Summary

Commercial space flights will continue to rise as reusable space vehicle technology will allow space transportation at a low cost. This is also evident by the recent flights of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and the New Shepard space ships.

The impact of rockets exhaust gases on the atmosphere is therefore a crucial factor requiring careful consideration in the design of future rocket launches. It is also crucial for appreciating the scale of pollution caused by these flights.

The paper addresses the impact of rockets exhaust gases on atmospheric pollution through high-resolution computational fluid dynamics simulations. Researchers have modeled the exhaust gases and developing plume at several altitudes along a typical trajectory of a standard present-day rocket, as a prototypical example of a two-stage rocket to transport people and payloads into Earth orbit and beyond.

In their paper, the researchers show that pollution from rockets should not be underestimated as frequent future rocket launches could have a significant cumulative effect on climate. The production of thermal nitrogen oxides (NOx) can remain considerable up to altitudes with an ambient atmospheric pressure below but of the same order of magnitude as the nozzles exit pressure. At the same time, the emitted mass of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the mesosphere is equivalent to that contained in 26 cubic kilometers of atmospheric air at the same altitude.

Media and Press Materials

AIP publication
Official Press Release
Download High Resolution Images

Contact Information

For more information about this study, please contact Prof Dimitris Drikakis at [email protected].

For more information about this study, please contact Dr Ioannis William Kokkinakis at [email protected].

Press Coverage

Articles and press mentions in global media about the research.

Scientists Discover That Rocket Exhaust Pollution Lingers in the Earth’s Atmosphere for a Disturbing Amount of Time

Scientists have discovered that rocket engine exhaust pollution can significantly increase the concentration of pollutants in the mesosphere for an extended period of time.

By |June 16th, 2022|

Rocket engine exhaust pollution extends high into Earth’s atmosphere

Reusable space technology has led to a rise in space transportation at a lower cost, as popularized by commercial spaceflights of companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. What is poorly understood, however, is rockets' propulsion emissions creating significant heating and compositional changes in the atmosphere.

By |May 18th, 2022|

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 Shows Harmful Effects on the Environment | Tech Times

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 Shows Harmful Effects on the Environment | Tech Times Are rocket launches harmful to the environment? A new study published on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, based on the Falcon 9 by Elon Musk's SpaceX suggests that space flights produce a significant amount of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere. It was modeled after Falcon 9's fumes and exhaust from a launch of up to 42 miles into the atmosphere.  The Falcon 9 comes with [...]

By |May 18th, 2022|

Rocket engine exhaust pollution extends high into Earth’s atmosphere

Reusable space technology has led to a rise in space transportation at a lower cost, as popularized by commercial spaceflights of companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. What is poorly understood, however, is rockets' propulsion emissions creating significant heating and compositional changes in the atmosphere.

By |May 17th, 2022|
2022-07-26T14:40:19+03:00July 26th, 2022|Engineering, News, School of Sciences and Engineering|

Share This, Choose Your Platform!

Go to Top