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Space tourism and Earth's climate

Space tourism could have significant implications for the Earth’s Climate Space tourism could have significant implications for the Earth’s Climate

Space tourism could have significant implications for the Earth’s Climate. New computer simulations suggest that soot emitted by rockets could increase temperatures at the poles, significantly reducing the seasonal ice sheet, but uncertainty remains about the assumptions used in the study.

In the coming years, space tourism companies hope to start regularly flying passengers on a suborbital spaceflight. Now, Martin Ross of the Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, California, and his colleagues have made the first detailed simulations of the effects of flights on Earth's climate.

They assumed a flight rate of 1000 suborbital trips per year, the number advanced in business plans for space tourism in 2020, and the estimated emissions of a rubber combustion engine such as the one planned for Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Two.

The researchers found that the effect of soot, which is an incomplete burned fuel, would damage that of carbon dioxide emissions from launches. Soot easily absorbs sunlight, warming the atmosphere where it is abundant.

Above atmosphere

The 1,000 annual launches would belch about 600 tons of soot, or black carbon, less than the current production of aircraft and other sources. But flat soot occurs at altitudes low enough for rain to pull it out of the atmosphere in a few days or weeks. Rockets expel the substance at three times higher altitudes, into the stratosphere more than 40 kilometers above sea level. There, well above time, it can stay up to 10 years.

To study the effects of black carbon emissions, Ross's team used a 3D simulation of the Earth's climate. They assumed that all black carbon is emitted over Spaceport America, a space tourism center under construction in New Mexico, USA.

The researchers found that black carbon caused an increase in temperatures at the north and south poles. The increase was about 0.2 °C for most of the year but peaked at about 1 °C during the winter of each hemisphere. The additional heat melted the sea ice at each pole, especially in Antarctica, where the area covered by ice decreased by 18% in the summer.

Space tourism will accelerate climate change

Scientists predict that soot from commercial spaceflight will change global temperatures.

Climate change caused by black carbon, also known as soot, emitted during a decade of commercial spaceflight would be comparable to that of today's global aviation, researchers believe.

The findings, published in a press article in Geophysical Research Letters 1, suggest that emissions from 1,000 rockets launched per year would persist at a high level in the stratosphere, which could alter global atmospheric circulation and ozone distribution. Simulations show that changes in earth's climate could increase polar surface temperatures by 1 °C and reduce polar sea ice by 5-15%.

"There are fundamental limits to the amount of material that humans can put into orbit without having a significant impact," says Martin Ross, an atmospheric scientist at the Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, California, and author of the study.

Private Spaceflight is a mature industry. Spaceport America, a launch site in Las Cruces, New Mexico, opened its first runway on October 22. Over the next three years, companies like Virgin Galactic, based in Spaceport America, expect to make up to two launches a day for space tourists. At the same time, the NASA Authorization Act passed by the United States Congress in September provides for US billion 1.6 billion in private investment in spaceflight to develop vehicles to carry astronauts and cargo into orbit.

"There are basic limits to the quantity of material that humans can place into orbit without having a significant implications.”

Corporate rockets burn a mixture of kerosene & liquid oxygen. But several private spaceflight companies, such as Virgin Galactic, could soon use a cheaper "hybrid" rocket engine that ignites synthetic hydrocarbons with nitrous oxide, Ross says. These hybrid engines emit more black carbon than a kerosene and oxygen engine, he adds.

"Rain and weather remove these particles from the atmosphere close to the Earth's surface, but in the stratosphere there is no rain and they may remain for 3 to 10 years," says Michael Mills, an atmospheric chemist and another author of the paper at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.

Soot surprise

The researchers made global atmospheric models of an injection of approximately 600 tons of black carbon per year at one location: Las Cruces. The results showed a layer of soot in the stratosphere that remains less than 10 ° latitude from the launch site, Ross says. In addition, about 80% of black carbon remained in the northern hemisphere, extending between 25° and 45 ° north latitude.

The black carbon layer caused a temperature decrease of about 0.4 °C in the tropical and subtropical regions, while the temperature at the poles increased between 0.2 and 1 °C, he says, stressing that the exact details need to be refined with other models. Black carbon also resulted in ozone reductions of up to 1.7% in tropical and subtropical regions, and increases of 5-6% in Polar Regions.

Impacts on the atmosphere and climate

The stratosphere is the section of the atmosphere where the ozone layer resides and it is this that causes the effect that the area creates. While below the tropopause (from the Earth's surface upwards) the temperature decreases with altitude, above there is an inversion; in the stratosphere, the temperature increases with altitude because ozone absorbs shortwave radiation from the sun. Temperature inversion creates a stable density structure in the stratosphere and the reversal circulation that occurs here is, therefore, slow Associated with low moisture content, meaning no clouds form and therefore no rain. These factors, along with the low density that reduces coagulation, mean that the particles emitted here have a residence time of several years, rather than the weeks they would have in the troposphere.

The results of the 2010 modeling study that Toohey co-wrote showed a non-uniform effect on the world of regular sustained launches of these spacecraft. Assuming a launch site at a latitude of approximately 33 ° N (consistent with where Virgin Galactic's America Spaceport was built), most of British Columbia was bounded between 25°N and 45°N and only about 20% of British Columbia traveled in the southern hemisphere. This asymmetry could be the cause of modeled ozone depletion in the tropics and subtropics, but an increase at the poles. This change in ozone distribution has been attributed to a higher stratospheric inversion circulation in previous studies, which has been shown to be caused by relatively small differential warming effects in the stratosphere.

In the stratospheric zone of the northern hemisphere, where most of BC was distributed, the temperature increased around 0.2°C while, at very little BC. They were in the southern hemisphere, there was no heating. This suggests that the latitude of the launch site may play an important role in the effect on ozone distribution, which has been shown to reduce ozone in the tropics by the same amount as CFCs. The increase in the stratospheric circulation caused by the charge in BC is approximately equivalent to the changes induced in this circulation due to modeled greenhouse gas emissions.

How do rocket emissions affect ozone and climate?

The rocket releases various substances depending on its propellant. Some, such as liquid hydrogen and oxygen (H2 / O2) are very clean, emitting mainly water (H2O) and nitric oxide (NO), which is produced by the heat of combustion. Others, such as aluminum/ammonium perchlorate (or" Solid rocket engines", SRM) release particles of hydrochloric acid (HCl) and alumina (Al2O3). Rockets using hydrazine (N2H4) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2o4) (sometimes called "hypergolic" because these chemicals spontaneously ignite when they come into contact) can produce large amounts of nitrogen oxides and react with atmospheric water vapor and sulfuric acid to form small particles containing nitric acid.. Kerosene rockets (essentially "airplane fuel") produce CO2 and black carbon ("soot"), which are climatically active gases (meaning they absorb infrared or visible light, heating the surrounding air).

There is a new type of propeller called "hybrid" that is used by some private companies. Hybrids are a mixture of a liquid oxidizer, nitrous oxide (N2O), and solid synthetic rubber (butadiene) that, when burned in an oxygen-poor environment of the upper atmosphere, produce CO2 and large amounts of soot (which is easily visible in the photos of these rockets as it is black or gray) and probably large amounts of nitric oxides (although there are no measurements on these plumes to verify the presence of NOx).

Reference Links:

https://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/flights-sense-how-space-tourism-will-alter-climate                                                    https://atoc.colorado.edu/~toohey/basics.html


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Last modified on Wednesday, 08 September 2021 00:21

My name is Georgios Gregoriadis. I am an experienced physicist with a strong background in Astronomy. I graduated from the University of Ioannina in 2002. I am a private teacher and owner of this website.

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