Space tourism by companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin could undo work to repair the ozone layer, study finds | world news
Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos’ space tourism could reverse advances in healing the ozone layer, scientists say.
New research has examined the effects of spacecraft departure and return on the atmosphere, particularly in the upper parts.
A combined study by UCL, the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that soot emitted from spacecraft is damaging the protective ozone layer around the planet – and traps heat 500 times faster than other sources of soot.
The co-author of the study, Dr. UCL’s Eloise Marais said comparing spacecraft emissions to aircraft and ground-based sources was therefore “flawed”.
While scientists noted that the current damage is minor, they proposed regulating the growing industry of people traveling to space for tourism to protect themselves from future troubles.
What is the ozone layer?
The ozone layer is a part of the atmosphere made up of O3 oxygen molecules – as opposed to O2 oxygen, which is more common in the air.
It protects the earth’s surface from enormous amounts of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun, which, if allowed to pass through, could lead to a rise in temperature.
Scientists have been campaigning for rule changes since the 1970s after realizing the shift was exhausted.
Certain chemicals were found to be causing the harm, and in 1987 the Montreal Protocol was introduced to ban the substances – it’s the only UN treaty ever ratified by all 198 member states.
Since then, the holes in the ozone layer have been repaired – albeit mostly at higher altitudes.
The damage caused by space travel
The scientists, who study space travel, examined data from 103 rocket launches in 2019 and also from Mr. Branson’s voyages Virgo GalacticMr Musks SpaceX and Mr. Bezos Blue Origin spacecraft.
They found that soot warming more than doubled after just three years of additional emissions from space tourism, in part due to added rubber in the fuel.
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The fact that the soot is ejected into the upper atmosphere increases the damage – the particles retain heat 500 times more efficiently than other soot.
If space tourism continued with weekly trips, it would undermine the success of the Montreal Protocol, the research says.
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The lead author of the study, Dr. UCL’s Robert Ryan said: “The only part of the atmosphere that shows strong ozone recovery under the Montreal Protocol is the upper stratosphere and it is there that the impact of rocket emissions will be hit the hardest.
“We did not expect to see ozone changes of this magnitude, which would threaten the progress of ozone recovery.”
The results were published in the journal Earth’s Future.