What I want to explore and begin a topic on in this post, is the exploration into clean astronautical engineering. Both of these topics, the environment and the development of space technology, are relevant to this generation and the world we live in. This topic is especially interesting as I have a strong interest in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, and want to make a career out of it. However, this article/post is about how far can we go with space travel if we are focused on eco-friendly ways to do it.
Space has been a large focus, especially since the flurry of development that happened in the 60s, both as a result and a cause of the first step on the moon by a human-manned rocket. But as excitement over the original men on the moon, so did the development of space technology. One of the factors of the massive rush in the technological developments of astronautics was the 'space race' between America and the Soviet Union. We no longer have the same circumstances or the same pressure. The reason why I'm mentioning the slowing of developments in this field is the fact that it means we have no real market to introduce or fund eco-friendly space technology.
The development of space technology, because it peaked mostly in the 1960s-1980s (until the Challenger explosion), nobody was thinking about the environmental impact of the rocket ships. This means that we have designed all of our rocket ships based on unsustainable models. This is especially bad because it means we have grown reliant on rocket models that have incredibly negative impacts on the environment. Both of these factors lead to a snowball effect, where new engineers that have come to the field have been taught based on these successful yet also very harmful models, with no real innovation recently.
The recent privatisation of space travel, for example, Elon Musk's SpaceX company, is leading to innovation, especially with the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9. SpaceX's recent developments in space technology could open up a new market and discussion of how we can turn rockets into something that doesn't harm the environment. They're especially vital because of the Falcon Heavy which is one of the first partially reusable launch vehicles. This means that fewer materials have to be sourced to build the Falcon Heavy heavy-lift launch vehicles, which is already a good way to decrease environmental impacts.
On all counts, space travel is an incredibly intricate combination of innovation, engineering, and bravery. Space technology is already developing at higher rates than it was 3 decades ago, and that is a good sign as to whether we can also align it with other world issues at the forefront of today's innovators. However, if we want to make space travel as eco-friendly as we can, instead of focusing on how shiny we can make it and how much profit we can get out of it, we need to focus on the actual engineering behind it.