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Tourism is expanding into space - what does it do to Earth? - Walla! Of money


In recent weeks space tourism has become a reality for two of the world’s richest people. Is it an expensive but harmless amusement, or another blow to the battered atmosphere of the earth? We went out to check

  • Of money

Tourism is expanding into space - what does it do to Earth?

In recent weeks space tourism has become a reality for two of the world’s richest people.

Is it an expensive but harmless amusement, or another blow to the battered atmosphere of the earth?

We went out to check


  • Space flights

  • Jeff Bezos

  • Richard Branson

Jonathan Singer, Angle

Friday, July 30, 2021, 00:15

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In the video: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos took off (Photo: Reuters, Edited by: Lear Spiegler)

The article was prepared by angle - the news agency of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences

in recent weeks it seems the era of space tourism officially opened, when two of the richest men in the world: Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the richest man in the world, and billionaire Richard Branson flew into space for a short stay tourists .

Hundreds of the world's richest people, including actor Tom Hanks and singer Lady Gaga, have already purchased tickets for the next take-offs.

It’s hard to blame anyone who wants to go on a short vacation from Earth, where floods, fires, and extreme weather events are becoming more and more frequent as the climate crisis worsens.

But the way to get a few minutes where all the trouble seems smaller - a journey on the back of a fuel-burning monster called a missile - may only make the situation worse.

It is advisable to read before you call your travel agent.

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A growing market

Space tourism did not start with Bezos and Branson.

As early as 2009-2001, the International Space Station hosted seven private citizens who paid $ 25-20 million each for the flight and accommodation, and in 2019 NASA announced that it would allow tourists to reach the station again in the coming years.

The two wealthy space tourists of recent weeks have flown using aircraft manufactured by the companies they own: Blue Origin (owned by Bezos) and Virgin Galactic (owned by Branson).

The experiences that Branson and Bezos offer include a few minutes stay in the first few miles of space.

Blue Origin takes a more "traditional" approach when reaching space, and uses a missile that flies vertically with a passenger capsule attached to its head, which separates from it and then drops back to the ground using a parachute.

Virgin Galactic, on the other hand, has developed a kind of spacecraft, which climbs to a height of 15 kilometers when connected to a larger plane, where it is released and launches a rocket that lifts it another 70 kilometers, eventually soaring back to the ground and landing on a runway similar to a normal plane.

In the face of these initiatives, SpaceX's space tourism program, the company of developer Elon Musk, which launches satellites and astronauts into space, is more ambitious.

The company plans to enter the market with the "Dear Moon" project, in which 8 citizens will be flown in 2023 on a week-long journey to the moon and back.

Yusko Mazawa, a Japanese businessman, has purchased all the tickets for the flight, and he plans to give them to various artists in order to promote world peace.

Jeff Bezos' space flight, July 20, 2021 (Photo: Reuters)

No smoke without fuel

The most significant difference between the various companies when it comes to pollutant emissions lies in what goes on under the "hood" - the fuel used by the aircraft. "When missiles take off into space, they need to take some fuel with them, as well as some oxygen, because at significant altitudes the concentration of oxygen in the air is not enough to allow the burning process to occur," explains Dr. Victor Chernov of the Mechanical Engineering Department at ORT Braude College of Engineering in Carmiel Am. Different missiles use different materials for this purpose. "SpaceX's Falcon missile uses refined oil, along with liquid oxygen, Blue Origin's missile uses hydrogen and liquid oxygen and Virgin Galactic's missile uses solid rubber fuel and laughing gas as oxygen. ", Chernov explains.

In terms of emissions of polluting gases, both SpaceX and Virgin Galactic missiles emit a large amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - but due to the fact that the Blue Origin missile burns only hydrogen and oxygen, the only substance emitted is water vapor.

If so, why are not all missiles based on hydrogen burning technology?

This is because beyond the environmental aspects, each type of fuel has its own advantages and disadvantages.

"The problem with hydrogen is its storage: it is very volatile, flammable and explosive. To use it as a fuel you have to cool it to minus 20 degrees Celsius so that it becomes liquid, and then you have to build a complicated system that maintains this temperature," says Chernov.

"In addition, the temperature at which it burns is very high, so you need a system that can handle heat. Kerosene, on the other hand, is about the same fuel that planes have, it does not need to be cooled or built into complicated systems so it is very easy to work with. Small missiles. "

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Pollutes like 395 transatlantic flights

According to Virgin Galactic, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted following each flight to the outskirts of the atmosphere is equivalent to that emitted following a flight from London to New York and back, while the amount of emissions generated following a flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 missile, which is said to reach the moon and back, is equivalent. To the one created by some 395 such transatlantic flights.

However, although it is a ridiculously high amount of emissions relative to the relatively short operating time of the engines and the small number of passengers these missiles serve, the fact that the number of launches each year is very small makes many researchers claim the total amount of emissions generated by missile launches is negligible. According to NASA, in all of 2020 there were 114 rocket launches into orbit around the Earth - while on average, more than 100,000 planes take off every day. Therefore, while the aerospace industry is responsible for about 2.5 percent of carbon emissions, the aerospace industry is responsible for only about 6 million The percentage.

Richard Branson on the inaugural flight of the space tourism industry, New Mexico, USA, July 11, 2021 (Photo: Reuters)

Straight to the atmosphere

At the same time, some identify the location to which the pollutant emissions take place - directly to the upper layers of the atmosphere, as a possible danger.

"The atmosphere layer that is 50-12 kilometers above the ground, called the stratosphere, is the one that includes the ozone layer that is responsible for the absorption of the ultraviolet radiation that is dangerous to life on Earth," explains Prof. Yoav Yair, Dean of the School of Sustainability at the IDC Herzliya.

"Aviation at these altitudes puts into this layer materials that should not be in it, such as greenhouse gases that absorb infrared radiation (Infra-red, ie heat, YS), and it has a climatic effect. In addition, this layer is very stable, so any material Whoever entered it stayed in it for years. "

Another layer through which missiles fly before they reach space is the mesosphere - a very thin layer with complex chemistry and unknown to the end.

There is scientific evidence that emissions that reach the upper and more sensitive layers of the atmosphere can dilute the ozone layer critical to all living things on land. In addition, the particles emitted into the stratosphere and mesosphere may accumulate over years and block some of the sun's radiation from reaching the ground (by absorbing or returning it to space) - thus they may inadvertently cool the Earth's surface and form a kind of climate engineering - theoretical and experimental practice ( On a very limited scale) that opinions about the effectiveness of its future use are divided in the scientific community. But as mentioned, at the current rate of launches, the effect on the solar flux penetrating through the atmosphere seems insignificant.

"Right now space tourism is not affecting the atmosphere," reassures Yair. "However, if we talk about the next century and a significant increase in the volume of industry activity to the point of a few launches a day, that would already be a different story."

When it comes to the future of the space tourism industry, Chernivtsi is optimistic.

"Most people who grow up today and become engineers understand the importance of relating to the environment," he concludes.

"I believe that as the industry develops and its impact becomes more significant, there will also be more efforts to reduce the pollution it produces."

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Source: walla

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