How much pollution will Jeff Bezos be on his space flight? It turns out when it comes to adding greenhouse gases Into the atmosphere, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket should be one of the cleanest launch vehicles in the world, although fears of climate change from suborbital spacecraft may increase as similar flights begin in the near future.
Rockets are not exactly green technology, and their overall environmental impact is still being studied. The vast majority of launches produce things like water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), soot and aluminum oxides, depending on what kind of fuel they use, according to helpful explainer from the Everyday Astronaut website for various aspects of space travel.
New Shepard, which billionaire Bezos will make its maiden voyage with a crew today (July 20), merges liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in its engine to create thrust, which means that “the main emissions will be water and some minor combustion products and there will be little or no CO2,” Darin Toohy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told Live Science. (Water – H2O – is made up of hydrogen and oxygen.)
Connected: See photos of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket
More: Watch Bezos launch into space in this livestream.
Water in rocket exhaust can increase the amount of clouds in the atmosphere, Tuhi added, including the iridescent “mother-of-pearl” clouds often seen at sunset after launch. They can affect the upper atmosphere, known as the mesosphere, and ionospherebut since the number of rocket launches is currently so small, they are not a major concern in climate simulations, he and his co-author wrote in 2019 article for Eos, the American Geophysical Union news magazine.
This may change as the number of launches increases in the near future, and a significant portion of the Eos article calls for more research on the potential impact of such flights.
Carbon dioxide pollution from space travel is still negligible, according to the Everyday Astronaut, with rockets accounting for about 0.0000059% of all CO2 emissions in 2018. (In the same year, air travel accounted for about 2.4% of global CO2 emissions.) But while ice and clouds can reflect sunlight back into space and reduce global heat, water vapor is more powerful. greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and the longer this vapor remains in the atmosphere, the more it heats up our planet.
“Water vapor in the upper atmosphere is not entirely harmless,” Florian Cordina, who wrote an article for the Everyday Astronaut, told Live Science. “But since New Shepard will shut off its engine relatively early in flight, there are very few [water] even go up high enough to stay there. “
Small particles such as soot and aluminum oxides are the most troublesome when flying rockets, Tuha said. “They can have a disproportionate impact on the atmosphere,” he wrote. “A very small amount can make a big difference.”
In 2010, he and two other researchers simulated the effects of soot introduced into the atmosphere as a result of 1,000 private suborbital flights a year and found that they can raise temperatures above the poles by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) and reduce polar sea ice levels by 5-15%.
But the New Shephard engine doesn’t produce much particulate matter, Touhy said. “In this context, it can be one of the cleanest fuels.”
Originally published on Live Science.