The nascent space tourism industry may have a new obstacle before it even gets off the ground. A new study published in the journal “Nature” suggests that space tourism may cause pollution that would in turn create climate change.
“A study suggests emissions from 1,000 private rocket launches a year would remain high in the stratosphere, possibly altering global atmospheric circulation and distributions of ozone,” Nature.com reported Friday.
Part of the problem seems to be the type of rocket engine used by companies like Virgin Galactic, which employ synthetic hydrocarbons ignited with nitrous oxide. The study’s authors claim that this will create “black soot” that will remain in the upper atmosphere for years, thus affecting worldwide climate.
Space tourism, in which the well heeled and the adventurous would spend about a quarter of a million dollars for sub orbital thrill rides, is seem as a means to help jump start a private launch industry/ Eventually paying customers would travel to low Earth orbit, perhaps to private space stations such as one planned by Bigelow Aerospace.
Unfortunately, on the basis of the study in “Nature”, one can already predict a big stumbling block placed in the path of the development of space tourism. There will be demands for further studies, delays, and very likely the replacement of the offending rocket engine for something a little more “green.”
Arguments that the development of space tourism and hence a commercial launch industry would be delayed or even derailed will fall on deaf ears. Who, after all, would be in favor of causing “climate change” for the sake of allowing rich people thrill rides into space?
Mind, the record of climate scientists in predicting the effects of “climate change” or, as it used to be called, “global warming” does not actually inspire confidence. Last year’s revelation of data manipulation and outright science fraud coming from the UK’s Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University suggest that the burden of proof for any claims of climate change by an industry fall squarely on those making the claims.
As of this writing, there has been no reaction from Virgin Galactic or its CEO Sir Richard Branson. Ironically, Branson prides himself on running “green oriented” business enterprises. Every likely the claims that his space tourism business will cause “climate change” will prove to be embarrassing.
Meanwhile, space tourism flights are predicted to start taking off within the next eighteen months. The official position of the Obama administration is supportive of commercial space, with proposed subsidies scheduled to start flowing to commercial space firms. Virgin Galactic has expressed interest in getting a share of that government money to develop an orbital space taxi to take astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station.
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver recently spoke at the dedication of a new runway at the New Mexico Space Port in Los Cruces.
On the other hand, the Obama administration prides itself on opposition to industrial enterprises that cause pollution and climate change, such as the oil and gas and coal industries. How that apparent contradiction will play out in the coming months will be interesting to see.
Sources: Study: Space tourism could pollute skies, UPI, October 22nd, 2010
Global Warming E-mails Rock Scientific Community, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, November 23rd, 2009
Virgin Galactic Spaceship Christens New Spaceport Runway, Clara Moskowitz, Space.Com, October 22nd, 2010