Atmospheric pollution from rockets

Ioannis W. Kokkinakis, Dimitris Drikakis

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    We address the impact of rocket exhaust gases on atmospheric pollution through high-resolution computational fluid dynamics simulations. We have modeled the exhaust gases and developing plume at several altitudes along a typical trajectory of a standard present-day rocket, as a prototypical example of a two-stage rocket to transport people and payloads into Earth's orbit and beyond. The modeled rocket uses RP-1 as the propellant and liquid oxygen as the oxidizer to generate ∼6806 kN of thrust via a total of nine nozzles, matching - as closely as possible based on available data - the specifications to the Thaicom 8 launch mission of the Falcon 9 rocket manufactured by SpaceX. We have used high-order discretization methods, 11th-order accurate, in conjunction with implicit large eddy simulations to model exhaust gas mixing, dispersion, and heat transfer into the atmosphere at altitudes up to 67 km. We show that pollution from rockets should not be underestimated as frequent future rocket launches could have a significant cumulative effect on climate. The production of thermal nitrogen oxides can remain considerable up to altitudes with an ambient atmospheric pressure below but of the same order of magnitude as the nozzles exit pressure. At the same time, the emitted mass of carbon dioxide in the mesosphere is equivalent to that contained in 26 km3 of atmospheric air at the same altitude.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number056107
    JournalPhysics of Fluids
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


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