Space tourism boom exacerbates environmental concerns

Monday, July 19, 2021

After many years of waiting, Richard Branson's orbiting trip back on a Virgin galactic ship this month was to be a triumphant homecoming.

Rather, the trip drew considerable criticism - due to its carbon footprint.

With Jeff Bezos due to launch a Blue Origin rocket on July 20, and by September Elon Musk's space agency SpaceX to launch a civil-only mission into space, the nascent space tourism industry is facing tough questions regarding its environmental impact.

At the moment there are not many rocket launches overall, sufficient for pollution.

'The carbon dioxide emissions are totally negligible compared to other human activities or even commercial aviation,' Nasa' s lead climate adviser Gavin Schmidt told AFP news agency.

"The issue here is really one of the disproportionate impacts," Darin Toohey, an atmospheric researcher at the University of Colorado in Boulder, told AFP news agency.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo uses a type of synthetic rubber to fuel it, incinerating it into nitrous oxide, strong greenhouse gases.

When SpaceX launches four private spacewalks in September, it will deploy its Falcon 9 rocket, which has been calculated to generate 395 transatlantic trips emitting carbon dioxide.