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Will space tourism boost global warming?

One of the biggest causes of global warming could be rocket launches into outer space, says a recent report.  With commercial space flight may come the reality of commercial space pollution says “Geophysical Research Letters”, a trade publication that has recently printed a report that that says 1000 space launches per year would deposit enough rocket soot into the stratosphere to change global atmospheric conditions.

Changes as serious as a 1° C rise in temperatures of the polar surface could occur and the polar sea ice could suffer a reduction as high as 15 per cent.

The U.S. sees commercial space flight as a rapid growth industry.  The first runway was just opened on October 22 at Spaceport America in New Mexico.  Virgin Galactic is expected to build space travel tourism to the point of two launches each day.  Their operations are run out of Spaceport America.

Commercial rockets use liquid oxygen and kerosene as propellants.  Hybrid engines are in development for commercial use that would burn a cheaper mixture of nitrous oxide and synthetic hydrocarbon.  These so-called hybrid engines would produce even more black carbon emissions than the liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants.

Near the surface of the earth, the weather washes out these sooty emissions, but there is no weather in the stratosphere and the emissions can remain for as long as 10 years.

Models showed that the soot emissions would have their worst effects in direct relation to launch areas, but that about 20 per cent of the soot would spread worldwide and adversely affect the climate of the entire earth.

Such dangers have probably not been previously considered, reflects an expert, because no one thought about commercial space travel as a serious industry before.  More studies are promised, as there are uncertainties in the models that will no doubt be exploited by proponents of commercial space travel.


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