What’s Going On Here?
This week SpaceX successfully launched its 100th mission, and the Falcon 9 rocket saw it’s sixth reuse, breaking the world record for the number of times a rocket has been recycled.
But with space travel on the increase, and every rocket launch producing 150 times as much CO2 as a transatlantic flight, are we witnessing the rise of another deadly pollutant?
What Does This Mean?
SpaceX’s reusable launch system development program was announced in 2011 as a privately funded organization to create new technologies for orbital launch systems that can be reused many times similarly to aircraft.
The amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere by space travel is still relatively low compared to commercial aircraft: if SpaceX achieves its goal of a launch every two weeks, that would add up to a total of around 4,000 metric tons of CO2 per year, whereas aviation adds 860 million metric tonnes.
However, there are many other environmental effects that we do not yet fully understand, from the combined impact of all the non-CO2 gases released, to fallen debris left in oceans, land or space, to concerns over the long-term damage to the ozone layer.
Why Should We Care?
Space travel gives us critical data on climate change and fuels research into science and engineering which has jump-started technologies in air revitalization, water recovery, waste management systems and alternative energy.
Astronauts state that it provides a grounded outlook on the unity of life on earth, from which they have no choice other than to come back as an environmentalist.
So what’s now concerning scientists, is that space travel is now expanding beyond the boundaries of science and set to grow exponentially – without any sanctions. With private space tourism being opened up to the public as soon as 2021, will the necessary legislation be brought in soon enough to ensure responsible growth and sustainable development?
Satisfy your inner nerd and re-watch SpaceX’s epic recent launches.
Listen to this episode of Global Optimism featuring astronaut Jessica Meir sharing her story of how going to space made her a better environmentalist.