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: Robert Ryan

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:

Forthcoming inventory of air pollutant emissions from rocket launches and burnup of discarded rocket stages and historical debris in 2019


R. G. Ryan, E. A. Marais, C. Balhatchet, S. Eastham, Impact of rocket launch and space debris emissions on global stratospheric ozone and climate, in progress.

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

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)