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Could Increased Space Rocketry Damage The Ozone Layer?

The growing success in rocketry by companies like SpaceX and Blue Origins has many science fiction fans applauding. But will improved rockets, which can mean global internet service and even space tourism, damage our atmosphere?

Kerosene-burning rocket engines widely used by the global launch industry emit exhaust containing black carbon, or soot, directly into the stratosphere, where a layer of ozone protects all living things on the Earth from the harmful impacts of ultraviolet radiation...

According to new NOAA research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, a 10-fold increase in hydrocarbon fueled launches, which is plausible within the next two decades based on recent trends in space traffic growth, would damage the ozone layer, and change atmospheric circulation patterns...

Launch rates have more than tripled in recent decades, Maloney said, and accelerated growth is anticipated in the coming decades. Rockets are the only direct source of human-produced aerosol pollution above the troposphere..

The scientists found ozone reductions occurred poleward of 30 degrees North, or roughly the latitude of Houston, in nearly all months of the year. The maximum reduction of 4% occurred at the North Pole in June. All other locations north of 30° N experienced at least some reduced ozone throughout the year. This spatial pattern of ozone loss directly coincides with the modeled distribution of black carbon and the warming associated with it, Maloney said...

(Via PhysOrg)

Science fiction author Peter F. Hamilton wrote this about his imagined Clarke-class Spaceplane in his 1998 novel A Quantum Murder:

Building One's doors slid open ponderously when Prince Harry pressed the button on the pedestal, somewhat predictably a band struck up the 'Zarathustra' theme, and the Clarke-class spaceplane emerged into the afternoon sunlight, escorted by a troupe of engineers in spotless white overalls...

The spaceplane was giga-conductor powered, the first of its kind, capable of lifting fifty tonnes into orbit without burning a single hydrocarbon molecule to injure the diseased atmosphere any further.

Update 28-Jun-2022: The issue of damage to the ozone layer from space flights is also seen in The Revolution from Rosinante (1981) by Alexis A. Gilliland:

The governor will get the blame for tearing up the ozone layer with that unauthorized shuttle flight...

...some time before the ozone level is sufficiently restored to permit resumption of regularly scheduled space flights. It is suggested that the wedding flight be placed in readiness to launch at the moment that the ozone level touches the acceptable mark.

...in the absence of sunspots, the ozone layer would not support suffiicient space traffic to make commerce profitable.

Thanks to Winchell Chung (@nyrath) of Atomic Rockets for passing along this tip. End update.

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