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New type of rockets are dangerous to human health and Earth's climate

20-5-2022 |

A new study shows that atmospheric pollution from rockets built by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, can harm human health and the Earth's climate. Scientists attribute this to the large amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides produced by each launch.

The study, published in the American Institute of Physics' scientific journal Physics of Fluids, digitally simulated exhaust gasses emanating from a standard rocket, similar to one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 reusable rockets, at different altitudes.

The increase in rocket launches by commercial space companies such as Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic "could have a significant cumulative effect on the climate". Scientists attribute this to the large amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides produced by each launch.

The concentration of nitrogen oxides that a rising rocket emits on the height of two cubic kilometers of atmospheric air is considered "hazardous to human health" by World Health Organization (WHO) standards.

"Exposure to the atmosphere will be a crucial factor requiring careful consideration when planning future rocket launches," wrote study authors Ioannis Kokkinakis and Dimitris Drikakis. They added that as the number of commercial rocket launches grows, subsequent atmospheric pollution must be taken into account.

SpaceX, which makes reusable rockets, made 31 flights in 2021, a record for the company. It plans to launch 60 rockets in 2022, Musk said in March.

Blue Origin plans a fifth human flight to the edge of the universe in May, after the New Shepard reusable rocket was launched in March. The company's first mission to launch humans into space took place in July, with Bezos and his brother as passengers on board.

Virgin Galactic said it plans to increase the number of tourist flights in 2023, aiming to send customers into space three times a month with a reusable rocket.