Environmental Impacts of High Altitude and Space Vehicle Emissions

Project Number: 091
Category: Emissions

The team will conduct research to provide a multi-model estimate of the impacts of near-future launch vehicle emissions. There is little known about how the large growth occurring in the use of rockets and the associated high altitude and space vehicle emissions will have on the global atmosphere, including the effects on atmospheric composition in the troposphere, stratosphere and mesosphere, and the potential resulting impacts on the Earth’s climate. This project will utilize latest and updated state-of-the-art climate-chemistry models with improved atmospheric climate and chemistry processes in association with expert analysis to underpin developing an assessment of the potential impacts of rockets (high altitude and space vehicle emissions) on the global environment, namely the composition of gases and particles in the troposphere, stratosphere, and mesosphere and resulting potential impacts on the Earth’s climate. The goal of the effort, which will be done by the team alongside the Aerospace Corporation who will develop the rocket emission scenarios, is to develop an assessment of the current state of understanding of potential impacts on atmospheric composition and climate forcing resulting from such high altitude and space vehicle emissions on the global environment.

The project will consider multiple plausible propellants and scenarios and use multiple atmospheric models to simulate the physical response of the atmosphere, in addition to the monetized climate and air quality outcomes. This will enable a balanced assessment of the magnitude and scope of environmental impacts resulting from launch vehicles. This project aims to satisfy four specific objectives: (1) develop scenarios for the coming decade (2023-2033) which span likely growth trajectories and technology pathways; (2) develop emissions inventories which reflect each scenario; (3) use multiple state-of-the-art atmospheric models to enable accurate estimation of launch vehicle impacts; and (4) quantify and monetize environmental impacts associated with each future launch vehicle scenario. The results of this project are expected to be translated into economic impacts in order to support decision making for FAA.


This project will develop emission data and quantify the impact of the high altitude and space vehicles on the air quality and climate change. FAA will have quantitative data regarding the likely future emissions from launch vehicles or their environmental impacts. Without such information, efforts to regulate launch vehicle emissions risk either unnecessarily suppressing the growth of the industry– and its economic benefits – or allowing a potentially significant environmental impact to grow unchecked. The environmental impacts of launch vehicles are largely unknown but are a subject of increasing scrutiny due to ongoing growth in governmental, commercial, and even tourist demand. This project will be the first to provide the data necessary to inform future decisions regarding launch vehicle emissions regulation.

Last updated 7/20/2023

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