Destroying The Ozone Layer, One Rocket Launch At A Time

Sharing a guest post today by a long time activist around the environmental threats of militarism. (Images added.) Newspapers local to Vandenberg SFB didn’t want to publish this fine op-ed, preferring instead to regurgitate government and corporate press releases that boost militarized space programs.

Vandenberg Space Programs Threaten Santa Barbara

by Nina Beety

 Why is the ozone layer deteriorating despite international action such as the ban on CFCs? The misleading green and blue on NASA’s maps actually signifies low ozone.

The aerospace industry is a major factor. Dallas et al (2020): [O]zone depletion is one of the largest environmental concerns surrounding rocket launches from Earth.” NASA discovered in 2007 that UV-C and UV-B were already reaching the Earth but failed to act. UV radiation is having lethal effects on species now.

Rockets destroy ozone. Rocket emissions from the four principal fuel types “cause prompt and deep ozone loss (approaching 100%) in the immediate plume wake, caused by the radical emissions, over areas of hundreds of square miles lasting several days after launch. These stratospheric ‘‘ozone mini-holes’’ have been well observed in situ by high altitude aircraft plume sampling campaigns.”(Ross et al, 2009) Radicals are oxides of hydrogen, nitrogen, bromine, and chlorine. “Stratospheric ozone levels are controlled by catalytic chemical reactions driven by only trace amounts of reactive gases and particles…A single radical molecule emitted into the stratosphere, for example, can destroy up to ~105 [100,000] ozone molecules before being deactivated and transported out of the stratosphere. ..[D]irect injection into the stratosphere over a limited area (a rocket plume, for example) will cause a prompt, localized, ozone ‘‘hole.’’

Vandenberg is damaging the ozone layer locally over Santa Barbara County now. Yet the Coastal Commission in June quietly approved SpaceX’s expansion there to 36 launches per year, and in September, will likely approve a new Phantom Space Company space complex at Vandenberg and allow 48 rocket launches per year. That’s 1.5 launches per week, and more projects are coming. Commission staff claim their hands are tied.

The shockwave of de-orbiting debris, satellites, and rockets creates nitric oxide which also destroys ozone.

Further, the sun makes ozone and replenishes the ozone layer in the stratosphere, but rocket pollutants there, including exhaust, water vapor, soot, and alumina, block the sun’s rays from repairing the ozone layer. And those rocket byproducts accumulate with every launch, persisting for up to three years before falling out.

Researchers including Martin Ross, Darin Toohey, and James Vedda have repeatedly warned the industry that public awareness could curtail rocket launches.

The long-lived aerospace pollution also acts like an insulating blanket, trapping Earth’s natural and human-made heat from venting into space. This will cause planetary warming and destabilize the climate.

Other serious problems exist. Aerospace pollution and explosions contaminate land, air, water, and ocean, harming wildlife. Nuclear spacecraft are being developed. Orbital congestion has created collision risks. And when rockets and satellites de-orbit, they burn and disintegrate into dust, gases, and flaming debris that fall down; the FCC proposes a 1 in 10,000 casualty risk from fall-out as “acceptable”.

Results of a SpaceX launch fail that caused a forest fire in Texas

Satellite systems also increase RF-EMF radiation exposure globally, damaging health and disrupting wildlife’s ability to navigate by Earth’s natural EMF fields. Bees, insects, and birds are particularly vulnerable. The U.S. Department of Interior warned in 2014 about this radiation’s devastating impacts to birds, and in 2020, a New Mexico 5G “live fire” drill by SpaceX and the military may have killed up to several million birds in the region. Emissions just discovered from SpaceX equipment may also interfere with the magnetosphere and Earth’s natural electric circuit, leading to extreme weather.

Federal and state legislators ignore this toxic reality.

In 2020, there were 2000 satellites total in the sky. By 2021, the number rose to 4800, the FCC approved 17,270 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, with 65,912 more applications pending, while governments and private companies planned an additional 30,947+ (Firstenberg, 2022). More are coming. These numbers don’t include medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites or rockets into space.

LEOs are short-lived, needing frequent replacement. Science author Arthur Firstenberg: “In 2021, there were 146 orbital rocket launches to put 1,800 satellites into space. At that rate, to maintain and continually replace 100,000 low-earth-orbit satellites, which have a lifespan of five years, would require more than 1,600 rocket launches per year, or more than four every day, forever into the future.”  Aleksandr Dunayev of the Russian Space Agency said in 1991: “About 300 launches of the [space] shuttle each year would be a catastrophe, and the ozone layer would be completely destroyed.”

This is a worldwide problem. There is no environmental oversight. That is unacceptable.

It’s long past time to strip back the curtain and expose the aerospace industry, including space tourism and military programs. Those who want to stop climate change and protect the ozone layer and the Earth must take action.

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