Two billionaires flew into space this week, neither of which contributed to scientific research. We want to know… how much carbon does a space plane emit?

The difference between Bezos and Branson’s flight

Bezos reached an altitude of about 66 miles while Branson reached about 53 miles. Bezos’ ship, New Shepard was completely automated and required no staff to man the it. Branson used a full fight crew to complete the voyage.

Blue Origin’s rocket used a mix of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, a cleaner alternative to traditional rocket fuel. Branson’s VSS Unity rocket used a mix of solid and liquid fuel to propel the aircraft.

Do space planes emit carbon?

Conventional rocket fuel depletes the ozone layer. They trigger chemical reactions that cause this negative externality, according to a 2018 report.

In addition, some particles emitted during a rocket launch can absorb and reflect energy from the sun. This prompts heating in the stratosphere while cooling the Earth’s surface.

The 2018 report discussed how thermal change can lead to the depletion of the ozone layer. However, that paper focused on conventional rocket fuel. Bezos’ team took a cleaner approach.

The mix of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen made the trip much more manageable for environmental concerns. An atmospheric scientist reported to Live Science that “water and some combustion products” would emit from the rocket, with “virtually no CO2”.

Carbon on space flights

Yes, the two flights contributed little to science. But it looks like it contributed little to climate too. Modern rocket fuel simply does not carry a high footprint.

The broader issue with these vanity projects is the excessive spending. Why not use extra cash to tackle tangible issues like homelessness? I guess space travel is less complicated than hunger or crime.

These flights won’t destroy the atmosphere, and they won’t accelerate climate change anything beyond what’s already happening.

More importantly, we must beg the question: how is a space plane really changing the world, with or without carbon emissions?

You can barely see anything 65 miles up anyway.

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