What more space flights would actually mean for emissions

Jeff Bezos says his suborbital space flight Tuesday reinforced his commitment to fighting climate change, but growth of this travel would also add a new source of carbon emissions.

By the numbers: S&P Global Sustainable1 offered some perspective on the amount of fuel burned and corresponding emissions from that type of commercial space launch.

The sustainability intelligence provider said it’s roughly akin to…

  • One car traveling 1.8 million miles.
  • The average travel of 157 cars in the U.S. per year (based on Transportation Department data).
  • “A full passenger roundtrip flight in commercial aircraft from London to New York.”

Our thought bubble: Axios space reporter Miriam Kramer notes that the number of launches each year is increasing but still relatively low.

  • In the future, however — if companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have their way — launches could increase dramatically, she notes. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic envisions 400 flights per year.
  • Reckoning with exactly how bad emissions from rocket launches are today could pay off in the future as more launches occur worldwide.

Reality check: Even a major increase in space flight would not create a big emissions source compared to CO2 output from power, industry and other forms of transport, including traditional commercial air travel.

  • But it’s another CO2-emitting sector at a time when steep cuts are needed to keep Paris Agreement goals within reach.

Of note: Bezos is a major funder of efforts to fight global warming, unveiling the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund in early 2020 and in November announcing initial grants totaling $791 million across 16 organizations.

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