Image Credit: Virgin
Three years ago I called Virgin's LEED certified spaceport a contradiction in terms, noting that
Tourists and passengers will drive into the middle of the desert, where Richard Branson and others will literally burn rubber, mixed with nitrous oxide, to fire people into space for seven minutes at $ 200,000 a pop. And guess what? It is designed to be LEED Platinum. To be "both sustainable and sensitive to its surroundings." What an oxymoronic gesture. Next thing you know we will have LEED certified coal fired power plants.
Commenters were all over me, but you know what? I was right. New research shows "that over a period of 10 years, private rocket launches could produce enough black carbon emissions to change global temperatures and accelerate climate change."
According to Nature, in an article titled Space tourism to accelerate climate change,
Emissions from 1,000 private rocket launches a year would persist high in the stratosphere, potentially altering global atmospheric circulation and distributions of ozone. The simulations show that the changes to Earth's climate could increase polar surface temperatures by 1 °C, and reduce polar sea ice by 5-15%.
"There are fundamental limits to how much material human beings can put into orbit without having a significant impact," says Martin Ross, an atmospheric scientist at the Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, California and an author of the study.
The Commercial Spaceflight Federation was not happy about this, and responded on Monday. They suggest that notwithstanding any pollution that the rockets put out, there are gains to be got from space travel.
The suborbital vehicles now in development will significantly benefit scientific research, particularly climate science, by allowing previously unparalleled access to parts of the upper atmosphere where atmospheric phenomena concerning global change may take place.
They also suggest that the study overstates the case:
There are many unknowns related to the microphysical properties of the exhaust particles, including size, structure, composition, and coagulation rates. Accordingly, the range of uncertainty in the models could be large and such ambiguities could significantly change the magnitude of the results, yet the paper includes no estimate of margin of error or a range of values for their findings.
OK, but it isn't benign and it isn't green. The use and location of the space station still makes it laughingly inappropriate The next thing you know, there will be LEED Certified parking garages, really.
More on Virgin Galactic and Space Travel
Is Virgin Galactic's Claim To Be Green Reasonable? Actually, Sort Of
Can Space Tourism Really Be Green?