Report: The Policy and Science of Rocket Emissions (TAC 2018)

Source: SpaceX

Source: The Aerospace Corporation


Combustion emissions from rocket engines affect the global atmosphere. Historically, these impacts have been seen as small and so have escaped regulatory attention. Space launch is evolving rapidly however, characterized by anticipated growth in the frequency of launches, larger rockets, and employment of a greater variety of propellants. At some future increased launch rate, the global impacts from launch emissions will collide with international imperatives to manage the global atmosphere. This could result in regulation of launch activity. The regulatory uncertainty is complicated by knowledge gaps regarding rocket emission impacts.

Looking ahead to the coming decade, the global launch industry and its stakeholders should encourage, facilitate, and fund objective scientific research on rocket emissions and engagement with international regulators to define metrics. Such a policy would forestall unwarranted regulation, ensure regulatory impartiality across the global launcher fleet where regulation is unavoidable, and facilitate launch industry freedom of action in crafting responses to environmental concerns.