April 2, 2009

Study: Rocket launches may need regulation

U.S. scientists say rocket launches might soon need to be regulated to prevent significant damage to the Earth's stratospheric ozone layer.

The researchers -- University of Colorado-Boulder Professor Darin Toohey; Patrick Ross of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.; and Martin Ross and Manfred Peinemann of the Aerospace Corp. in Los Angeles -- estimated future ozone layer depletion based on the expected growth of the space industry and known impacts of rocket launches.

As the rocket launch market grows, so will ozone-destroying rocket emissions, said Toohey. If left unregulated, rocket launches by the year 2050 could result in more ozone destruction than was ever realized by chlorofluorocarbons.

Toohey said just a handful of National Aeronautics and Space Administration space shuttle launches release more ozone-depleting substances into the stratosphere than the entire annual use of CFC medical inhalers used to treat asthma and other diseases in the United States and which are now banned.

In addition, Toohey said rocket engine combustion products are the only human sources of ozone-destroying compounds injected directly into the middle and upper stratosphere where the ozone layer is located.

The research appeared online in the March issue of the journal Astropolitics.