Follow for more talkers

Study claims commercial space travel’s bad for Earthlings

Musk, Bezos and Branson's rockets are likely to produce emissions that are hazardous to human health.

Avatar photo



By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Rocket engine exhaust extends high into the atmosphere, endangering Earthlings on the ground, according to new research.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk in 2014. (Wikimedia Commons)

Commercial flights planned by Elon Musk's SpaceX, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin will fuel climate change.

Propulsion emissions will create significant heating and alter chemical compositions in the sky.

One launch could pollute over two cubic kilometres of air in the time it takes the spaceship to reach six miles up.


Concentrations of thermal nitrogen oxides (NOx), produced during combustion, would be at a level hazardous to human health.

The study is the first of its kind to assess the potential environmental impact of space travel for altitudes up to 42 miles into the atmosphere.

Co-author Professor Dimitris Drikakis said: "Improved understanding of rocket emissions requires modeling and simulation of fluid dynamics of rocket exhaust gases into the atmosphere."

Branson's goal is space tourism, Bezos' is to move industries there to 'save the planet' while Musk wants to colonize Mars.


So the team at the University of Nicosia, Cyprus, modeled exhaust gases and developing plumes at several altitudes along a typical trajectory of a standard present-day rocket.

They did this as a prototypical example of a two-stage rocket to transport people and payloads into Earth's orbit and beyond.

Co-author Dr, Ioannis Kokkinakis said: "We show pollution from rockets should not be underestimated as frequent future rocket launches could have a significant cumulative effect on the Earth's climate."

The researchers found NOx production remains high above or even slightly below the nozzles' exit pressure - below an altitude of about 10 km (6.2 miles).

Emitted mass of carbon dioxide as the rocket climbs 1 kilometre above Earth's atmosphere is equivalent to that contained in 26 cubic kilometres of air at the same altitude.

The study in Physics of Fluids found the impact on the atmosphere locally and momentarily can be significant.

Air currents will gradually transport and mix the exhaust CO2 throughout the atmosphere.

It will eventually bring it back down to naturally occurring levels - but the time scale over which this happens is not clear.

Scientists believe a number of rocket launches will accumulate CO2 over time - increasing naturally occurring levels and affecting our climate.

Prof Drikakis added: "We hope commercial flight companies, such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and the New Shepard, and their associated engine manufacturers, will consider these effects in future designs."

Stories and infographics by ‘Talker Research’ are available to download & ready to use. Stories and videos by ‘Talker News’ are managed by SWNS. To license content for editorial or commercial use and to see the full scope of SWNS content, please email [email protected] or submit an inquiry via our contact form.

Top Talkers