Space Tourism Could Harm The Ozone Layer

30th Jun 2022
Space Tourism Could Harm The Ozone Layer

The current generation of space startups is creating a first golden age of space tourism. However, scientists warn that the space tourism proposed by space entrepreneurs could undo the progress that has been made in healing the ozone layer. 

The warnings stem from a combined study carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Cambridge. The study revealed that soot given off by spacecraft is damaging the ozone layer around the planet. Moreover, this soot retains heat at a rate of 500 times that of other sources of soot. 

The researchers published their findings in the Earth’s Future journal. Dr Robert Ryan of UCL, the study’s lead author, said the following:

“The only part of the atmosphere showing strong ozone recovery post-Montreal Protocol is the upper stratosphere, and that is exactly where the impact of rocket emissions will hit hardest.

“We weren’t expecting to see ozone changes of this magnitude, threatening the progress of ozone recovery.”

To reach this conclusion, the scientists taking part studied data regarding space travel from 103 rocket launches. The launches took place in 2019. They include trips by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin spacecraft, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. 

They discovered that the warming caused by soot more than doubled after three years of further emissions. A number of reasons are attributed to this, including added rubber in the fuel.

Regulating space tourism needed to protect the ozone layer

Blue Origin stated that their New Shepard launch vehicle is rather environmentally friendly. It uses a BE-PM engine, which they state is fuelled with clean and highly efficient hydrogen and liquid oxygen. 

Speaking to Sky News, a representative for the company said:

“During flight, the only by-product of New Shepard’s engine is water vapour with no carbon emissions.”

University researchers pointed out that the damage to the ozone layer at present is small. However, they feel that the growing industry requires regulation when it comes to people traveling to space for tourism purposes so that we can protect the ozone layer from issues in the future. 

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