Can Space Technology & Exploration Be Eco-Friendly?

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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.

Comments (8)

  • tom Tom @ the BNC
    08 Nov 2019

    A balanced and well-researched piece, steady_harmonica. Can you tell us where you found your information?

    Do you think the human race will make space travel eco-friendly, or are we destined to carry on polluting?

    Reply to this comment
    1. Highdown-logo-250x250.jpg steady_harmonica | Highdown School
      Tom @ the BNC's comment 08 Nov 2019

      My sources: https://www.spacex.com/falcon-heavy
      https://www.spacex.com/missions
      May 1987 NatGeo issue I own: Soviets In Space article
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FehGJQlOf0
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-uxmp6ok8I
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcoIugXUKfM

      I believe that in order to develop eco-friendly space technology, we would need to see the funding of agencies such as the ESA, NASA and UKSA. We'd probably also need to see the recognition of space technology and travel as something that can be used to further help our struggles with climate change here, rather than Trump's idea of a space force. Humans have been polluting ever since we were well-enough evolved to make something that could pollute, and I don't think we can actually fully stop polluting. Because of how long we have been doing it, there is a snowball effect of that pollution from hundreds of years ago. This means that because of how long we have been polluting, we have a mindset of it not being urgently important, and especially as the people in control of the space agencies and the space agencies funding are from older generations who have been seen to not care as much about pollution, I doubt that eco-friendly space technology could happen while they're in charge.

      Reply to this comment
    2. Richmond-Hill-logo-250x250.jpg amazing_memory | Richmond Hill Academy
      Tom @ the BNC's comment 08 Nov 2019

      We will probably carry on polluting

      Reply to this comment
  • Richmond-Hill-logo-250x250.jpg amazing_memory | Richmond Hill Academy
    08 Nov 2019

    Probably not because of the amount of smoke and greenhouse gases in the launch of any kind of rocket

    Reply to this comment
  • St Marys Whitstable logo amicable_cello | St Mary's Catholic Primary School B
    11 Nov 2019

    I think that before we ever landed on the moon or even went into space we thought it was impossible. So even if we think making making eco-friendly is impossible now i am sure that we will be able to create an alternative to greenhouse gasses and fuel. Or we could invent something to travel to space by using the lack of gravity as an advantage.

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  • Michael-Faraday-logo-250x250.jpg memorable_orchard | Michael Faraday School
    11 Nov 2019

    No, because space exploration can leave lost of debris behind and how much air pollution a single rocket launch can cause. With 18 launches in 2018, the entire rocket industry produces about as much pollution in a year as one busy airport in one day. SpaceX accounts for about 20% of launches going into orbit annually. The Falcon 9s produces approximately 500–700 tons each of water and carbon dioxide every launch. There are over half a million items of debris in space, which moves 10 times faster than a bullet. And nobody can see a bullet when being shot. This is why global warming formed and is what we're suffering today. How can it affect us? It could harm us as we'd need to spend excessive amounts of money to protect our items in orbit from our waste. Not only can this affect live satellites which track down what is going on in space. We could easily prevent it by not using rockets, and stay bewildered at what lies in wait for us.

    Electricity is also one of the main problems. It takes 75 to 90 kilowatts needed to power the ISS. This is one of the most used fumes used to supply everything we use. So, this is why I do not think space exploration and technology is eco-friendly.

    Thank you for reading.

    Reply to this comment
    1. Olivia-Avatar.jpg Olivia @ the BNC
      memorable_orchard's comment 12 Nov 2019

      There are loads of statistics here that support your reasons. Well done! Where did you find them? It's always important to reference your source of information.

      Reply to this comment
      1. Michael-Faraday-logo-250x250.jpg memorable_orchard | Michael Faraday School
        Olivia @ the BNC's comment 12 Nov 2019

        I mainly did a search on google and went to these websites:

        https://www.edn.com/design/power-management/4427522/International-Space-Station--ISS--power-system#:~:targetText=The%2075%20to%2090%20kilowatts,than%2040%20homes%20on%20Earth

        https://www.quora.com/How-much-pollution-does-SpaceX-produce-with-all-the-rocket-launches#:~:targetText=The%20entire%20rocket%20launch%20industry,and%20carbon%20dioxide%20per%20launch.

        https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/space/2019/04/space-junk-huge-problem-and-its-only-getting-bigger#:~:targetText=Space%20junk%20can%20impact%20other,other%20objects%20orbiting%20our%20planet.

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