Can Rockets be Green?

February 15, 2020

40 Responses to “Can Rockets be Green?”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Wonder how much greenhouse gas is released from guided missiles, both rocket and jet powered ? I Can’t imagine much work is being done on producing “green” missile propulsion systems. Pity that it is very unlikely we will ever be able to ban warfare, right to the end of our brief habitation of this planet.

  2. peterangelo Says:

    Then there is this:

    “ Airbus launched the design program in 2017, and the Maveric, which is 6.5 feet long with a 10.5-foot wingspan, first took flight last year. The rapid progress isn’t too surprising, as the design challenges of the blended-wing body are largely understood. The remotely piloted X-48 Hybrid Wing Body completed more than 100 flights before NASA and Boeing wrapped their joint project in 2012. And the Northrop B-2 bomber has been flying for nearly 30 years.

    But making the design viable for commercial use is a much different proposition than making it work as a military bomber, where concerns over cost and comfort are less pressing. The plane’s structure, with a larger interior, would need to accommodate different pressurization requirements, says University of Toronto aerodynamics researcher Thomas Reist. The trick will be making the plane strong enough to do that without adding weight and reducing efficiency. Stability is also an issue. “Without the horizontal and vertical tails that tube-and-wing aircraft have, maintaining a stable and controllable aircraft is much more challenging,” Reist says. The B-2 is notoriously difficult to fly, requiring constant computerized stabilization to keep it safely in the air. That’s why Airbus says controllability is the primary interest area for the Maveric program.

    The payoffs of success, however, can be significant. The efficiency boost comes primarily from the higher proportion of surface area exposed to airflow, which aerodynamicists call the wetted area. “Aerodynamic efficiency scales with the wetted-aspect ratio,” Reist explains. A high ratio lets you minimize the the two big sources of drag, that made by producing lift and from the friction of the aircraft cutting through air.

    Reist says the blended-wing body has largely been considered optimal for aircraft carrying more than 400 passengers. That’s an unpopular use case these days, but a Maveric-like design could be made more efficient for smaller aircraft, as long as the center body is narrower, to improve the wetted-area ratio. The Airbus model doesn’t have a narrow center fuselage, but the company indicates that it’s targeting it initially for single-aisle regional aircraft.

    Airbus is also considering alternative propulsion sources for the aircraft, according to Aviation Week. Those include an EcoPulse system being developed by Safran and Daher that would use three electric rotors on each wing powered either by batteries or an electricity-generating, fuel-burning turbine engine.

    But rethinking the commercial jet is not so simple. After the engineers sign off on structure and efficiency, regulators, airlines, and others will want to evaluate the plane for everything from compatibility with existing airports to evacuation times to passenger acceptance.

    Airbus says the current demonstration program will end sometime this year, with a second round of studies to follow. Unsurprisingly, it has given no timeline for any extended development or entry into service. So for now, we’re stuck with the ol’ tubes and wings—but at least you can keep enjoying the view from the window seat.“

    • dumboldguy Says:

      All very interesting, especially to the techno-geeks and number quackers that love to deny reality. And the blended-wing will be inherently unstable and require much computer assistance? Swell—just like the 737 MAX—-the passengers can take solace in the fact that they are aboard the ‘latest thing” as it carries them to their doom when the computers “glitch” and the pilots lose control.

      And in the blended wing design, won’t the passengers , engines, and fuel tanks be in closer proximity and more vulnerable in crash landings or when rotor blades fly off? The tube body provides at least minimal survivability in certain types of crashes, and even conveniently breaks into pieces so passengers can escape and rescue personnel can enter. How does one escape when the whole plane is sitting on top of you?

      Yes, smell the horse manure, children—-it is not always necessary to visit a farm to do so.

      • peterangelo Says:

        Your time would be better spent critiquing the original post that sprouted this thread and the owner of this blog for posting it. Without any vetting of the current state of the emissions from rockets he made this post without any reference to where the stats came from. Fight the hyperbole, not those setting the record straight and merely discussing the current state of the (misguided?) technology/research.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Spend my time “….critiquing the original post that sprouted this thread….?”

          Been there, done that. (and there is really no record to set straight—-any rational and well-informed person knows that all this rocket and airplane nonsense is never going to be less than harmful to the biosphere).

  3. PeterVermont Says:

    Elon Musk’s SpaceX will likely be the biggest orbital transport company going forward. With Tesla and SolarCity he has a lot of credibility about caring for the environment. If he makes 10’s of billions per year with the Starlink satellite internet system, as is quite possible, I think it is likely he will use renewable energy to make the methane needed for his coming Super Heavy Booster and Starship, even if it is not the most cost efficient choice.

    Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin will also soon have a methane powered orbital class rocket, the New Glenn, and he too is committed to fighting climate change so I suspect he will endeavor to use carbon neutral sources or at the least offset the carbon of space launches.

  4. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    One of my petty peeves: I’m not a big fan of sending big eating, breathing, pooping apes into space. I much prefer the ROI of robotic missions.

  5. peterangelo Says:

    Hey dumboldguy, I hope you have your medication handy:

    “ SpaceX just inked its first deal to launch space tourists into orbit on a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

    The private spaceflight company founded by billionaire Elon Musk has signed an agreement with the U.S. space tourism company Space Adventures to launch up to four passengers on an orbital trip aboard a Crew Dragon space capsule. The mission would last up to five days and could launch as early as late 2021, Space Adventures representatives told

    “This historic mission will forge a path to making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it, and we are pleased to work with the Space Adventures team on the mission,” SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement from Space Adventures. “

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Not to be overly vicious, but the best thing that could happen to any of these “send the rich folks into space” ventures would be for the first one to blow up on the launch pad while the whole world watched. Second best would be to have one break up on reentry, leaving a trail of flaming debris across the sky.

      The price to fly around the moon in 2020 was projected by Space Adventures to be $175 million. That’s beyond obscene!

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