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Pollution from SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic's rockets could harm human health and Earth's climate, study says

  • Fumes from SpaceX and Blue Origin rockets can be harmful to health and the climate, a study shows.
  • It said the concentration of nitrogen oxides released by a missile was “dangerous to human health”.
  • The increase in launches by commercial space companies could have a major impact on the climate, according to the study.

The pollution from rockets built by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic could harm human health and harm Earth’s climate, a new study shows.

“Rocket Atmospheric Pollution,” published Tuesday in the journal Physics of Fluids, has digitally modeled a standard rocket’s exhaust, similar to one of SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9s, at various altitudes.

The increase in rocket launches by commercial space companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic “could have a significant cumulative effect on climate,” the study said. This is due to the amount of carbon gases and nitrogen oxides produced with each launch, the study said.

The study found that the concentration of nitrogen oxides released by a rocket taking off in two cubic kilometers of atmospheric air was considered “dangerous to human health” by World Health Organization (WHO) standards.

“The impact on the atmosphere will be a critical factor that requires careful consideration in the design of future rocket launches,” wrote the study authors, Ioannis Kokkinakis and Dimitris Drikakis.

As the number of commercial rocket rides rises, the resulting pollution in the atmosphere should be investigated, the authors added.

A spokesperson for Blue Origin told Insider that the New Shepard rocket is “fueled by highly efficient and clean liquid oxygen and hydrogen” and that its only byproduct is “water vapor with no carbon emissions.”

Blue Origin plans its fifth human flight to the edge of space in May, having already launched its reusable New Shepard rocket in March. The first mission to launch humans into space was in July when Bezos and his brother were passengers on board.

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

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic said it plans to ramp up tourist flights next year, aiming to send customers to space three times a month with its reusable rocket.


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