Environment Impacts and Benefits of Space

By Mateo Michalec

Since the space industry is seeing increasingly high demand many wonder what type of impact this has on planet Earth. At the same time, you might be unaware of some of the benefits that the space industry creates in our every day lives.

The most obvious impact will be the rockets and the emissions they create. While there are a lot of different emissions, the main ones are CO2, Carbon soot and Carbon monoxide (which becomes carbon dioxide), and lastly water vapor. Every rocket uses a different type of booster for propulsion: kerosene, alcohol, liquid hydrogen and methalox (methane burnt with liquid oxygen). Liquid hydrogen and methalox are mostly used in SpaceX Starship rockets and Blue Origins rockets and are most likely going to be your cleanest fuels emitting CO2 and water vapor as the main emissions.

As the technology of the rocket industry improves so do the emissions. For comparisons sake, the SpaceX Falcon 9 (arguably the most common rocket) produces about 425 tons of CO2 per flight vs a Boeing 747 producing 302 tons of CO2 per average flight. One of the main reasons why rockets tend to be less efficient is that they must counteract gravity at all times, while a plane uses aerodynamic lift to overcome gravity.

However, according to the everyday astronaut research team, the entire airline industry produced a total of 918,000,000 tons of CO2 in 2018, while the spaceflight industry created 22,780 tons of CO2. While it’s not good to add to the pollution of our planet, spaceflight contributes a small fraction compared to other industries. At the same time, we will continue to see vast improvements in rocket technology efficiency. It is possible one day to have almost no emissions from a rocket, but our technology is just not quite there yet.

But without the industry we would also not be able to help our planet. For example, Astra Space is dedicated to improving life on earth from space. They were awarded a $7.95 million contract from NASA on a mission called the TROPICS. The objective is to help scientists to improve their measurements and understanding of tropical storms. A lot of the satellite systems we have are used for exactly this: to try and get a better understanding of climate change and where we should focus our efforts. Think of those maps you see of the CO2 emissions over certain parts of the world. Where do you think they come from? How would we know this if we didn’t have the technology to see it?

As the future of the satellite industry grows so does the need to clean up “space junk”. The European Space Agency is planning to send a robot into orbit to collect dead satellites and space junk. The Japanese based company Astroscale has already setup a program to collect dead satellites.

Finally, satellites are used for so many things on earth, but I would argue one of the largest contributions would be the different satellite systems from GPS to weather forecasting to telecommunication systems. Think of how much these systems are used in our everyday lives. This is all thanks to continuous advancement in the industry.

For these reasons I fully support the industry and believe that the need for continued expansion of the space industry will be ever more needed. I am confident the industry will find ways to adapt and make even more efficient and environmentally friendly products. As an investor this is music to my ears. This will not be some hot industry for a short period of time, but rather a growing industry for many decades to come.

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