Space tourism takes heavy toll on climate

 Monday, June 27, 2022 

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The recent race for space tourism by Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX with several rocket launches is causing a bad effect on climate and increasingly contributing to global warming, according to a study.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) showed that black carbon (soot) particles emitted by rockets are almost 500 times more efficient at holding heat in the atmosphere than all other sources of soot combined (surface and aircraft) – resulting in an enhanced climate effect.

While the study revealed that the current loss of total ozone due to rockets is small, current growth trends around space tourism indicate potential for future depletion of the upper stratospheric ozone layer in the Arctic in spring.

This is because pollutants from solid-fuel rockets and re-entry heating of returning spacecraft and debris are particularly harmful to stratospheric ozone.

To calculate the findings, the researchers collected information on the chemicals from all 103 rocket launches in 2019 from across the world, as well as data on reusable rocket and space junk re-entry; and the recent demonstrations by space tourism entrepreneurs Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX and proposed yearly offerings of at least daily launches by Virgin Galactic.

Under a scenario of daily or weekly space tourism rocket launches, the impact on the stratospheric ozone layer threatens to undermine the recovery experienced after the successful implementation of the Montreal Protocol–adopted in 1987, the global ban on substances that deplete the ozone layer.

The study calls for immediate mitigation practices to regulate the environmental impact of the space launch industry to minimise harm to the stratospheric ozone layer and climate.

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