Space tourism has recently become a buzzword. Science fiction has now become science fact after the first North American Spaceport opened in New Mexico recently. Flights to the outer edge of our planet for tourism have begun and Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic heads the charge. It’s a dream come true for many people, allowing what was an otherwise impossible fantasy for most-besides highly trained astronauts.
But with that increase in air traffic-which is already one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases-will it affect the already compounding effects of global warming?
According to some scientists it’s going to significantly increase it exponentially by 5-15 percent. A paper published in the Geophysical Research Letters think that’s true. They say that if 1,000 space flights happen in just one year, it will increase the amount of black carbon in our upper atmosphere, altering atmospheric conditions and changing the ozone layer.
Some 660 tons of black carbon could end up in out stratosphere each year, staying there for years if not decades. This amount is equal to the entire global emissions of the aviation industry.
But why the huge increase? Thousands of flights happen daily and we don’t have half that problem now. Commercial rocketry involves using a mix of nitrous oxide and a synthetic hydrocarbon. Commercial jets use jet fuel. The difference between the two is that twice as much black carbon is emitted into the atmosphere.
Worst of all black carbon is emitted directly into the stratosphere where it is locked in place for quite some time. Black carbon is the worst of all carbon and is responsible for absorbing sunlight at greater quantities than simple carbons. This in turn heats our planet more and more with each and every black carbon atom.
While the preliminary investigations aren’t quite complete, the early findings do suggest that the industry may need to be regulated quickly, placing a hamper on the burgeoning space tourism industry early in its infancy.
Space flight is a double edged sword. We need it to expand our population to the stars, but at the same time, it may be dragging us closer to extinction.