Space tourism will accelerate climate change, warn scientists as Sir Richard Branson unveils world's first commercial spaceportUnited Kingdom
Daily Mail Reporter
A decade of commercial space flight would have a devastating impact on climate change and global temperatures, according to a new study.
Scientists believe that vast amounts of black soot created by a new generation of spacecraft could lead to temperatures in polar regions rising by as mush as one degree Celsius.
The study comes as the dream of whisking tourists edged closer to reality with the official opening of the runway at the world's first commercial spaceport by Sir Richard Branson.
The billionaire said he expects flights for space tourists to begin in nine to 18 months, and he will be among the first passengers.
Scientists found that black soot from commercial space flight will dramatically change global temperatures because of the particular fuel they use for sub-orbital flight.
Firms like Virgin Galactic plan on using a 'hybrid' rocket engine that ignites synthetic hydrocarbon with nitrous oxide. These hybrid engines emit much more black carbon than conventional commercial engines.
Their simulations how that space flight would lead to polar surface temperatures by 1 °C, and a reduction in the polar sea ice by 5–15 per cent.
And a layer of black carbon caused by commercial space flights caused the temperature to decrease about 0.4 °C in the tropics and subtropics.
The study, reported in Geophysical Research Letters1, suggest that emissions from 1,000 private rocket launches a year would travel high in the stratosphere, changing how ozone is circulated and produced, with dramatic consequences within just ten years.
The study's author Martin Ross said: 'There are fundamental limits to how much material human beings can put into orbit without having a significant impact'.
Unveiling the new spaceport, which stretches across a flat dusty plain 45 miles north of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Sir Richard Branson said: 'Today is very personal, as our dream becomes more real. People are beginning to believe now.'
The nearly two-mile-long runway is designed to support almost every aircraft in the world, day-to-day space tourism and payload launch operations.
All that is left for the company is more rocket testing on SpaceShipTwo and sending it into space.
Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two - the special jet-powered mothership that will carry SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude - also made an appearance, passing over the spaceport several times before landing on the new runway.
Spaceport America is the world's first facility designed specifically to launch commercial spacecraft.
Virgin Galactic is the main tenant of the taxpayer-funded $198 million spaceport and plans to use the facility to take tourists on what will first be short hops into space.
State officials want to add companies for other commercial space endeavours, such as research and payload delivery, once the spaceport's terminal hanger facility is complete next year.
Sir Richard was joined at the ceremonies by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, tourists who have already paid their deposits for a seat into suborbital space and Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon in 1969 as part of Nasa's Apollo 11 mission.
Until now, space travel has been limited to astronauts and a handful of wealthy people who have shelled out millions to ride Russian rockets to the international space station.
Tickets for suborbital space rides aboard SpaceShipTwo cost 200,000 US dollars.
The 2 1/2-hour flights will include about five minutes of weightlessness. Some 380 people have made deposits totalling more than 50 million US dollars, Virgin Galactic officials said.
Sir Richard, the president of Virgin Group, which counts airlines, entertainment and mobile communications among its businesses, partnered with famed aviation designer Burt Rutan on the venture.
While space tourism projects such as Virgin Galactic's receive plenty of publicity, the commercial space industry is rapidly developing with companies like SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, seeking to supply the International Space Station for Nasa.
SpaceX has successfully placed a dummy payload into orbit and has contracts to lift satellites next.
Other firms, including Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, and Armadillo Aerospace of Rockwall, Texas, are testing systems that would carry unmanned payloads to space.
Last month, Congress approved legislation that affirms President Barack Obama's intent to use commercial carriers to lift humans into near-Earth space.
'Each flight we make, we'll learn more, we'll experience, we'll open up more opportunities that we cannot even conceive of today,' Sir Richard said. 'This history, we're making it right now.'
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