Scottish space technology company Orbex said its new Orbex Prime rocket will produce around 96% fewer carbon emissions than traditional space launch programmes.
According to fresh research, Prime could be “one of the most environmentally friendly orbital launch vehicles ever built,” benefiting from the use of renewable, ultra-low-carbon biofuel.
Orbex claimed the rocket is also reusable and designed to not leave any debris on Earth’s surface, oceans, or atmosphere.
The firm is committing to offsetting all emissions from the rocket and its launch operations, stating it wants “every launch” to be carbon neutral.
Orbex plans to launch Prime from the carbon-neutral Space Hub Sutherland in the North of Scotland.
The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Exeter, calculated that a single Orbex Prime launch would produce up to 86% fewer emissions than a similar-sized vertical launch vehicle powered by fossil fuels.
Current, similar-sized space vehicles emit high levels of black carbon – the particulate matter formed by the incomplete combustion of fuels containing carbon – which is a major contributor to worsening climate change when emitted from rocket engines into the stratosphere.
Commenting on the research, Orbex CEO Chris Larmour said: “Orbex will be the first commercial orbital space launch company to use a renewable, carbon-friendly fuel.
“We believe it is time to move away from the use of heavily polluting fossil fuels now that more efficient, sustainable alternatives are readily available, and we hope to see much tighter regulations coming into force.
“As the world prepares to attend the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, we have already moved decisively to a fully sustainable solution that avoids the massive carbon emissions profiles of old-fashioned fossil fuelled launch solutions.”
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The annual amount of black carbon created by around 120 space launches is equivalent to the black carbon emissions from the entire global aviation industry. Orbex said their new rocket “almost entirely eliminates black carbon emissions”.
Dr Xiaoyu Yan of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter carried out the study and said the UK space industry “has a key role to play” in combating climate change.
“For example, by launching satellites that can monitor environmental changes on Earth – but such benefits must be weighed against the environmental impact of space launches, which by their nature can be highly carbon intensive,” he said.
“Our study shows that the launch operation planned by Orbex can result in a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to the other launch scenarios considered in our analysis.”