The new commercial space race is in full swing right now, and the industry progresses at a pace never seen before. Building permanent bases on the Moon, sending tourists to space, potentially colonizing (or, at least, exploring) other planets and deep space – all of these amazing possibilities have become available just recently.
On the other hand, the rapid space progress raises certain environmental concerns. Today, ever-more industry leaders ask a pressing question – is space sustainability and eco-friendliness possible? Let’s try to find out.
New generations choose sustainability
Today, sustainability is an actual business trend as ever more millennial investors choose to support initiatives in line with eco-friendly goals. Even more than that, 90% of investors would prefer sustainability when choosing their retirement and superannuation plans.
Gen Z went even further than millennials, as a 2020 report from First Insight implies. According to the report, 73% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products, and businesses actively adjust to this trend. Besides businesses, modern organisations adjust to sustainability principles as Gen Z employees choose in favour of environmentally concerned employers.
All things considered, it becomes clear that modern society is shifting from reaping profits to ensuring sustainable use of our planet’s resources. In the long run, this makes all the sense in the world as, once our planet’s resources are drained, there will be no profits left to make. But how does it all translate to space sustainability?
How new technologies help battle climate change
Climate change is one of the most widely discussed topics today. Despite public criticism of carbon emissions from rocket launches, space tech is keeping guard of our planet. To date, over 160 Earth Observing Satellites (EOS) are keeping track of climate change indicators. Not only do they provide scientists with precise insight for future analysis, but they also obtain data that can only be captured from space.
In other words, one could state that EOS data is now crucial for our survival, giving us timely information on natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, and forest fires, as well as providing valuable insight on ice levels and other crucial climate change indicators.
But monitoring climate change is only the tip of the iceberg. EOS data can apply to all sorts of sustainable development goals as Earth monitoring can detect illegal activities, such as poaching and piracy, help in rescue missions, track wildlife, etc.
The tech itself can do wonders when it comes to space sustainability and making the most of our planet’s resources, but the actual applications are up to us.
How space startups contribute to the environment
The 21st-century space race is primarily a commercial endeavour, but as we already covered — most businesses today keep sustainability in mind. And, while the public reasonably doubts the concept of sustainable space tourism, openly criticising orbital tourists flights as a wasteful whim of the rich, many space companies are doing their best to promote sustainability in space. Here are some of the top examples:
- SpaceX: the leader in the number of launches and the payloads deployed, Elon Musk does not forget the idea of sustainable space. Currently, SpaceX is polishing up reusable launch systems that would eventually reduce the cost of each launch (already the lowest per kg of payload). Eventually, this would translate not only to higher profits but also to the more responsible use of our planet’s resources.
- Skyrora: Skyrora is a rocket manufacturer that has created an eco-friendly fuel obtained from plastic waste. Besides, it is developing a Space Tug – and OTV that would help remove space debris and clean up our orbits.
- EOS Data Analytics: this US-based company is working on a constellation of satellites for remote Earth monitoring. Its data is already used by a variety of government, commercial, and research clients worldwide. EOSDA is also committed to creating an advanced analytics system for commercial agriculture – something that today’s LandSats cannot fully provide.
- Satellite VU: the UK company is analyzing thermal imagery, aiming to provide insight on the current carbon footprint and, eventually, ways to reduce carbon pollution.
- Bellatrix Aerospace: the Indian institution is looking for clean energy sources and is currently experimenting with an electric propulsion system powered by water. Right now, it may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but more amazing breakthroughs have happened in the last few decades, so everything is possible.
Stages of space industry development
The evolution of the space industry and the emergence of companies that try to combine space and sustainability allows us to roughly divide the history of space exploration into three periods: old space, new space, and sustainable space.
This is the beginning of the mid-20-century space race, characterised by enormous government budgets and an overly political competitive spirit. Back in the day, the governments fought over military and political dominance, and the concept of space sustainability was non-existent. For as long as the tech worked, the amount of resources spent did not matter.
New space is the introduction of commercial players and the era of emphasising space availability. Both satellites and launch vehicles significantly diminished in size and launch cost – all thanks to determined visionaries like Musk and Bezos. Still, the New Space Age remains a commercial endeavour with little regard for sustainability and a clear focus on, if not profits, then at least progress.
The Sustainable Space age is only emerging, but the trend is unmistakable. It is still led by private players, but their vision is more of securing humanity’s and our planet’s future rather than simply reaping the benefits of space. This is the age of experimentation — with eco-fuels, reusable rocket stages, space junk removal vehicles, etc.
The emerging attention to space sustainability and appreciation of our planet’s resources does inspire hope in the future of mankind. While it is too soon to make any predictions, the sheer amount of eco-friendly initiatives aimed at preserving and, possibly, replenishing the Earth’s for future generations implies that humanity is finally taking a step in a responsible direction – if not for ourselves, then for the generations to follow.