December 3, 2010

Space Tourism Might Speed up Global Warming

The new space tourism industry may accelerate climate change and also impact on the planet’s ozone layer according to a new study recently published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The report concluded that there could be as many as 1,000 space tourist flights annually within just 10 years. However, these figures are disputed by the emerging new industry, who say it’s too soon to predict. Nevertheless, space flights costing millions of US dollars are already offered by the company Space Adventures and a new generation of short flights are expected to being in 2011. The latter will depart initially from the USA, then from Northern Sweden the following year at an estimated ticket price of around a mere US$200,000.

Five Nordic travel agencies have been authorised to sell tickets for these short space flights which are to be operated by Virgin Galactic (an arm of Virgin Airlines) in partnership with another company, Spacesport Sweden.

Michael Mills – co-author of the report and an atmospheric chemist at Colorado’s National Centre for Atmospheric Research – claims: “companies need to proceed with developing their systems with full knowledge of consequences on the planet.”

Lead author – Martin Ross of the Aerospace Corporation in Segundo – also said that: “we think black carbon from rockets is something that deserves attention.” The rubber-based rocket fuel, burned with nitrous oxide, is at the core of the problem.

According to the report, the tourist space trips plan to fly at sub-orbital levels in the stratosphere where their rubber-based rocket fuel could have the effect of shrinking the Earth’s ice-caps, altering the ozone layer and impacting negatively on the already problematic warming of the planet.

Ross and Mills’ study used advanced computer models to try and predict the impacts of 1,000 flights a year. Running two simulations for a fortnight each, they calculated that over 1.3 million pounds (or 590,000 kilos) of sooty black carbon would be deposited annually in the stratosphere. At this height above the Earth’s surface, there is no rain or wind to filter soot out of the rarefied air, so it could there remain for years absorbing additional solar radiation and contributing to climate change.



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