1. Stratospheric Soot 2. Rocket Propellants
3. Martian Madness 4. Helium
5. Re-entry Debris 6. Suborbital Debris
7. Plutonium in Space 8. Cosmos 1818
9. Re-useable Rockets 10. Space Tourism
11. Launch Accidents 12. Ozone Depletion
13. Overview Effect 14. HAPS
15. Sustainable Space 16. Our Long Future

Stratospheric Soot

We might question whether even an ‘enlightened’ billionaire will develop empathy for the delicate balance of nature by blasting through the upper atmosphere on a rocket burning ‘terminator’ rubber, leaving sooty-skid marks in the stratosphere.


It's true. The planned space tourism venture is powered by an engine that burns a type of synthetic rubber called hydroxy-terminator polybutadiene. Terminator Fuel Burns Rubber in the Stratosphere.

But what’s a bit of rubber smoke (soot), you might ask. It's a big atmosphere, right?

A 2010 study describes how rockets produce CO2 emissions that contribute to radiative forcing (heating of the planet). The report says that the the soot released by rockets in the stratosphere is a much more powerful greenhouse agent than CO2 and it stays around for much longer (3-5 years).

As such, the soot from the rocket has up to 100,000 times more warming effect of the CO2 from the rocket. The soot is projected to accumulate in a band around 50 kilomtres altitude. Thus, if space tourism ‘takes off’ as planned, it could produce a massive new source of global warming just at the time when we need to be radically dialling down greenhouse emissions.

Read the Report: Space Tourism’s Black Carbon Problem.

The scientific paper describes plans for space tourism venture using a hybrid rocket fuel and assumes 1,000 suborbital launches a year – compared to about 70 per year at present (2014) taking off from a launch pad located at 33 degrees north latitude.

The study used a climate model that was enhanced to identify the role of soot in heating the atmosphere. It showed that these space tourist launches will leave a band of black carbon (soot) in the mid-stratosphere that within a decade will have a warming impact equivalent to that of all of today’s aviation emissions.

Imagine that, one company, one tourism venture, adding an additional 2% of the global warming much of which will be centred over the 33 degrees north latitude. Who lives at 33 degrees North? Lets have a look at the map.