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Friday, 03 April 2009 21:27

Rocket study suggests more regulations to prevent ozone depletion

According to a study performed in part by The Aerospace Corporation, rocket launches in the future, as many more are performed each year, may need to be more strictly regulated by the global community in order to not deplete ozone in the stratosphere.

Ozone depletion is (1) the slow but steady decline in the total volume of ozone (trioxygen [O3], or a molecule consisting of three oxygen atoms) in the Earth’s stratosphere (which contains the ozone layer) and (2) the much faster decline of stratospheric ozone over the North and South Pole regions of the Earth (which has been called the “ozone hole”).

The study, conducted by Martin Ross, Darin Toohey, Manfred Peinemann, and Patrick Ross, has been published in the January 2009 issue of the journal Astropolitics.

The article is entitled “Limits on the Space Launch Market Related to Stratospheric Ozone Depletion” (Astropolitics, Volume 7, Number 1., Pages 50-82).

The authors state in the abstract to the paper, “Solid rocket motors (SRMs) and liquid rocket engines (LREs) deplete the global ozone layer in various capacities. We estimate global ozone depletion from rockets as a function of payload launch rate and relative mix of SRM and LRE rocket emissions."

"Currently, global rocket launches deplete the ozone layer 0.03%, an insignificant fraction of the depletion caused by other ozone depletion substances (ODSs).”

However, they warn, “As the space industry grows and ODSs fade from the stratosphere, ozone depletion from rockets could become significant. This raises the possibility of regulation of space launch systems in the name of ozone protection.” [Abstract]

Page two discusses comments from Drs. Ross and Toohey, two of the authors of the study.

Darin Toohey, one of the authors of the study, stated, "As the rocket launch market grows, so will ozone-destroying rocket emissions."

Dr. Toohey, of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado (Boulder), added, “If left unregulated, rocket launches by the year 2050 could result in more ozone destruction than was ever realized by CFCs."

CFCs refer to chlorofluorocarbon, a class of chemical compounds that are known to deplete the ozone layer around the Earth. They are included in such products as fire extinguishers, refrigerants, propellants (aerosol cans), flame retardants, and solvents.

In the April 1, 2009 ScienceDaily.com article “Rocket Launches May Need Regulation To Prevent Ozone Depletion, Says Study,” Martin Ross, another of the authors of the study, was paraphrased to have said that “Future ozone losses from unregulated rocket launches will eventually exceed ozone losses due to chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which stimulated the 1987 Montreal Protocol banning ozone-depleting chemicals.”

The authors continue to state: “Large uncertainties in our understanding of ozone loss caused by rocket engines leave open the possibility that launch systems might be limited to as little as several tens of kilotons per year, comparable to the launch requirements of proposed space systems such as spaceplanes, space solar power, and space reflectors to mitigate climate change.” [Abstract]

Thus, as more launches of large rockets occur around the world from more and more space-faring countries, it may be prudent to now (and not later) perform research to remove that uncertainty and find out exactly how much ozone-depletion occurs on such launches.

Dr. Ross, who is associated with The Aerospace Corporation (Los Angeles, California) stated, "In the policy world uncertainty often leads to unnecessary regulation.” [ScienceDaily.com]

He adds, “We are suggesting this could be avoided with a more robust understanding of how rockets affect the ozone layer." [ScienceDaily.com]

Page three continues.

The research team concludes, “The potential for limitations on launch systems due to idiosyncratic regulation to protect the ozone layer present a risk to space industrial development. The risk is particularly acute with regard to the economic rationale to develop low-cost, high flight rate launch systems.” [Abstract]

With many countries now shooting rockets into space from a variety of solid, liquid, and hybrid propellants, it would be wise to now determine how each variety reacts when reaching the stratosphere and their impact on the ozone layer.

The countries that have the ability to launch their own rockets, missiles, and spacecraft into space (and through the stratosphere) include: China, European Union (includes France and the United Kingdom, which have also independently launched rockets), India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Russia, the Ukraine, and the United States. [Wikipedia: “Satellite”]

Many other countries have developed the ability to launch rockets into space, but have not had a successful launch. These include South Africa, Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada, Argentina, and Egypt.

North Korea and Iraq have unconfirmed launch abilities.

These countries are developing the ability to launch rockets: South Korea, Brazil, Pakistan, Romania, Taiwan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Australia, Malaysia, and Turkey

Page four concludes.

As you see, the space outside of Earth will be fast filling up with spent rocket casings that have the potential to deplete the ozone level.

Dr. Ross concludes, “Twenty years may seem like a long way off, but space system development often takes a decade or longer and involves large capital investments. We want to reduce the risk that unpredictable and more strict ozone regulations would be a hindrance to space access by measuring and modeling exactly how different rocket types affect the ozone layer." [SpaceDaily.com]

And, adds, “We have the resources, we have the expertise, and we now have the regulatory history to address this issue in a very powerful way. I am optimistic that we are going to solve this problem, but we are not going to solve it by doing nothing." [SpaceDaily.com]

Unfortunately, the world’s historical record on learning about an industry’s effect on the environment has been to do nothing until the matter becomes so bad that the public demands action.

It would be nice if the aerospace industry would reverse this trend and learn about the affects of rocketry on the ozone layer now rather than later, when the matter has the potential to become out of control.

Public perception is a large and important factor in the success or failure of any company or any industry.

If an industry has the perception of being concerned with the health of people and the well-being of Earth, they are often in much more advantageous positions that are industries with poor public images.


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