Report: Space Sustainability Isn’t Just About Space Debris – on the Atmospheric Impact of Space Launches (MIT 2022)

Source: SpaceX

Source: MIT


Throughout their life cycle, space launch vehicles impact their local and global environments on Earth and in space. Given the space industry’s projected growth, recent literature suggests that the atmospheric consequences of these activities are understudied and insufficiently addressed. Rockets uniquely emit combustion gases and particles into distinct layers of the atmosphere, inducing effects that include perturbations of ozone chemistry and of Earth’s energy balance through radiative forcing. International environmental regulations do not presently address rocket emissions and only scarce, isolated policies exist at the national level. Additional research on the impact of space launches, including new in sit measurements coupled with global atmospheric models, is required to inform policymaking and future mitigation. The development of an actionable and collaborative sustainability index for launch vehicles could serve as a basis for future regulations or incentivize the sector towards more sustainable designs by making emissions reduction a competitive advantage.