Jeff Bezos’ space flight: what effect did it have on climate change, carbon emissions

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Fifty-two years ago Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin traveled to space aboard NASA’s Apollo 11, the first was the first man to walk on the moon and it really was. a moment of pride for all of us, and still is. But who knew that after all these years, space travel would become something of a game and competition for billionaires like Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

Earlier this week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos flew into space in his Blue Origin New Shepard on Tuesday, July 20. The businessman was accompanied by his brother, an 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen and an 82-year-old aviation pioneer from Texas for a 10-minute flight aboard his company’s Blue Origin spacecraft.

Unlike the Virgin Galactic rocket plane piloted by Richard Branson, which launched successfully on July 11, Bezos’ capsule was fully automated and did not require any official personnel on board for the flight.

Yes, everything is fun and playful until these space tours start contributing to global warming and damaging the atmosphere. Scientists said rocket engine emissions were historically considered low, but as the frequency of launches increases and larger rockets are used, the impact is likely to increase.

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Carbon emissions must be taken seriously to protect the planet and its atmosphere. Scientific experts, Martin Ross and James Veda, warned in 2018 that emissions from traditional rockets trigger chemical reactions that deplete the ozone layer. Their paper also states that these space launches also inject particles into the stratosphere that absorb and reflect solar energy, heating the stratosphere while cooling the surface. These thermal changes also lead to the depletion of the ozone layer.

However, Blue Origin’s rocket was powered by a mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The thrusters are much cleaner than conventional rocket fuel. But there is also a debate about it.

Darin Toohey, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told Live Science that New Shepard’s major emissions would be “water and some minor combustion products, and virtually no CO2.” But in his own article co-authored by Mr Ross in 2019, he warned that “water vapor emissions from individual launches in particular can impact the mesosphere and ionosphere” – two much higher layers. of the atmosphere.

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“While not currently a global concern, at an increased launch rate, upper atmosphere launch plumes will become ubiquitous and thus affect global mesospheric and ionospheric processes and properties,” the researchers said. scientists.

Branson’s VSS Unity rocket used a hybrid mixture of solid and liquid propellants, and Elon Musk’s Space X Falcon project relies on liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene called RP-1.

Flights generate a significant amount of CO₂ emissions. For example, an economy class flight from New York to London emits the equivalent of 11% of an individual’s average annual carbon emissions. And the demand for space remains tiny compared to the demand of air carriers. For the whole of 2020, there have been 114 attempted orbital launches around the world, according to NASA. This compares to the more than 100,000 flights in the airline industry on average each day, and COVID-19 has had an impact on that number.

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A SpaceX flight, for example, generates the annual carbon footprint of 278 average citizens of the world.

Rocket carbon emissions are low compared to the aviation industry. But now space travel emissions are increasing by almost 5.6% a year, said Eloise Marais, associate professor of physical geography at University College London. Marais has been running a simulation for a decade.

On the other hand, Branson and Bezos’ trip to space has also caught the attention of lawmakers, with a proposal to tax travel just as conventional flights through the troposphere currently are.

“Space exploration is not a tax-free holiday for the rich, just like normal Americans pay taxes when they buy plane tickets, billionaires who fly in space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some, ”the Democrat said. from Oregon said.

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