Impact of rocket launches and space debris on the atmosphere and climate

The space sector is growing rapidly without environmental regulation. Here we construct an inventory of emissions from rocket launches and burnup of returning space junk. We implement these in the GEOS-Chem model coupled to a radiative transfer model to determine the impact of current and future emissions on climate and the composition of the upper atmosphere.


People: Connor Barker

Funding: European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant (StG) UpTrop (851854)

Media coverage on the environmental cost of space tourism:

Mashable, Space tourism sounds fun. But it could be terrible for the planet.
The Guardian, How the billionaire space race could be one giant leap for pollution
CTV News, Space travel is open for business, but what about the environmental impact?

External Collaborators: Seb Eastham (MIT), Chloe Balhatchet (U. Cambridge)

Data and Tools Used: GEOS-Chem, RRTMG

New Datasets:

Rocket atmospheric impact - Emissions Inventory and Results. R. Ryan et al. (2022). doi:10.5522/04/17032349. [Data].


R. G. Ryan, E. A. Marais, C. J. Balhatchet, S. D. Eastham, Impact of rocket launch and space debris air pollutant emissions on stratospheric ozone and global climate, Earth's Future, doi:10.1029/2021EF002612. [PDF].

E. A. Marais, Space tourism: rockets emit 100 times more CO₂ per passenger than flights – imagine a whole industry, The Conversation, 19 July 2021.

E. A. Marais, Axiom launch: why commercial space travel could be another giant leap for air pollution, The Conversation, 8 April 2022.

Disclaimer: This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 851854)