Can space exploration be environmentally friendly?

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Trustful_badger’s post on whether or not we should make electric space rockets got us thinking about whether space exploration can ever be environmentally friendly. We’ve been talking a lot about the environment recently and, for many people in our school, it is a key priority for the future. Therefore we were interested to see if our desire to look after the environment conflicted with our positive view on space exploration.

According to an article on Science Focus, space launches can have a hefty carbon footprint due to the burning of solid rocket fuels. This is obviously not great for the environment since lots of greenhouse gases are produced which contribute to pollution and damaging the Earth’s atmosphere. Rocket engines also release trace gases into the upper atmosphere that contribute to ozone depletion. Space junk is also a major concern when it comes to the environment.

However, there is good news. Many rockets use liquid hydrogen fuel, which produces ‘clean’ water vapour exhaust, which does not in itself harm our environment (although the production of hydrogen can cause significant carbon emissions). On top of this, rocket launches are relatively infrequent, meaning that their overall impact on our climate remains quite small.

In our opinion, it is possible to make space exploration more environmentally friendly:

1. It might be possible to use ‘green fuel’, which NASA is already looking into. This would be able to be broken down into harmless components, which would mean that it wouldn’t damage the environment. The heavier a spacecraft is, the more fuel it needs which means that the heavier a spacecraft the more pollution it produces. One solution to this might be something called a space elevator, which sounds impossible but is actually already being worked on by scientists. It is essential as it sounds: a lift in space. We would something with a lot of mass into the Earth’s orbit, attach a cable between the orbiting mass and the Earth and build an elevator that can climb the cable out into space! I’m not convinced it would work but it’s an idea…

2. Fusion might be a very environmentally friendly way to power a space shuttle because you could get a lot of energy (enough to power a spaceship) from a very small amount. The problem is that scientists haven’t yet figured out how to use fusion reliably as it requires a lot of heat and pressure. Hopefully one day soon this will become a viable way of generating power.

3. Solar sails could be used to help a rocket move through space, though it wouldn’t help it to get off the ground and into the Earth’s atmosphere. The solar sail would use the sun as an engine, with the sun’s photons pushes forward a sail attached to a spacecraft. This renewable form of energy would be great for the environment.

4. It doesn’t just come down to fuelling the spacecraft. There are other environmental considerations to be made. Resources, for example, such as water. There are systems on board every space craft that are used to purify water so that astronauts have a clean water supply. These systems allow the purification of grey water, which is waste water used for cleaning as well as urine and sweat. Conserving every drop of water is clearly environmentally friendly and may help us learn how to save water here on Earth too.

In our opinion, space exploration can be environmentally friendly and worrying about its effects on the environment shouldn’t be a reason to stop exploring.

What do you think? Are these ideas for making space travel more ‘green’ plausible? Is space travel any worse for the environment than aeroplane travel here on Earth? It is a reason to stop doing it?

References

https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/5-green-technologies-for-interplanetary-space-travel5.htm

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/space-travel-environmentally-friendly-branson-virgin-galactic/

https://www.sciencefocus.com/space/are-space-launches-bad-for-the-environment/

Comments (8)

  • The Sherwood School grateful_crab | The Sherwood School
    06 Dec 2019

    I personally think rocket launches will make climate change worse and if it were to fail there would be an incredibly high increase of co2 (carbon dioxide). Following this, the cost will blow a hole in their money which will cause major financial issues. Thirdly, NASA instead of exploring space could help us focus on climate change first by using satellites and probes to monitor our atmosphere and the critical state of our atmosphere.

    Lastly, rocket launches include a lot of oil which is the most commonly used fossil fuel which is not good for the environment and we already have enough oil made/related things such as: Cars, Plastic, Lenses and aircraft and spacecraft fuel as I have previously stated. So in conclusion, I think, yes, space exploration will affect climate change and the atmosphere negatively

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  • Phoenix-logo-250x250.jpg loyal_music | Phoenix Primary School
    06 Dec 2019

    I think the environment in space is cold and harsh becouse there is no gravity and you have to wear fic space suits if you go to space

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  • Lyons Hall Primary School convivial_shark | Lyons Hall Primary School C
    08 Dec 2019

    I do not think it would because it will effect climate change and will make this climate change problem more of a problem

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  • Hammond School logo zestful_mouse | Hammond Junior School A
    09 Dec 2019

    Space exploration really is not environmentally friendly so if we could make it we would be really saving our planet

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  • Hammond School logo perceptive_skill | Hammond Junior School A
    09 Dec 2019

    I think space exploration can be environmentally friendly if we don't affect the planets around us by not sending people to space on holidays up to space as it can be a threat to the environment on other planets. This is a threat because the humans that can afford to go on the holidays might be taking some of the recorces or the moon rock and selling it for loads of money. Also we could be threading space because we are creating more space junk. When we send a satellite up to space we usually just leave it up there because we don't have a plan on how to get it down so we are are threading space without thinking about what will happen to our atmosphere. Also space junk is bad because one day this earth will end and it is just going to create a problem for the people who will have to live in space. The amount of space junk is increasingly large and unless we discover a way to collect all of it in then we are a threat to space.

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  • Hammond School logo adventurous_tennis | Hammond Junior School B
    12 Dec 2019

    No I do not agree at all, because every time we send a rocket to space we are letting 1000 and 1000 and 1000 of carbon dioxide into the air and killing animals all around the world and especially baby ones and them low and behold by the time we want to explore animals most of them will be dead so what are we going to do explore space and kill animals or explore animals and help the environment.

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    1. tom Tom @ the BNC
      adventurous_tennis's comment 12 Dec 2019

      When you say '1000' - what are you referring to?

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  • Hammond School logo articulate_elephant | Hammond Junior School A
    13 Dec 2019

    Yes because rockets use a lot of fuel and that is polluting the earth and that is a cause of global warming

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