UK achieves the world’s first carbon-neutral rocket launch

UK achieves the world’s first carbon-neutral rocket launch

A UK satellite company has achieved the first ever carbon neutral rocket launch, according to the company’s chief executive.

In a remarkable achievement, a UK satellite firm has conducted the world’s first carbon-neutral rocket launch, as confirmed by the company’s CEO.

London-based company, Inmarsat, launched its I-6 F2 satellite on SpaceX Falcon 9 on Friday from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Rajeev Suri, the head of the company, revealed that the emissions resulting from the rocket and spacecraft had been neutralized via carbon offsetting projects in various locations worldwide. These projects include a biodiversity reserve in Indonesia, a gigawatt grid solar farm in Rwanda, and community reforestation in Ghana.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Suri said, “We’re offsetting roughly 5,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions associated with the launch. We’re also funding several sustainable projects across the world through renewables, reforestation, and afforestation.” This launch has been certified as a carbon-neutral event by The CarbonNeutral Protocol, a leading global framework for carbon neutrality.

It is not yet clear how rocket emissions affect the environment due to the infrequency of launches. However, the space industry burns less than 1% of the fossil fuels burned by the aviation industry, although the number of launches has been rapidly increasing in recent years.

Unlike airplanes, rockets release pollutants in the mesosphere and stratosphere in the upper atmosphere, making it difficult to compare the two. Some environmentalists criticize carbon offsets for not addressing the primary issue of reducing CO2 emissions at the source. Nevertheless, until the development of emissionless technologies that can deliver satellites to orbit, carbon offsetting could provide a way to counter the pollution created during critical space infrastructure launches.

Ketan Joshi, a climate and energy analyst working with the European Climate Foundation, stated that carbon offset projects “should only be reserved for the most necessary and hardest to abate sectors.” He added, “The necessity of rocket launches is a question society has to address.”

Inmarsat’s report in 2022 highlighted the importance of satellite technologies in achieving current climate targets and pushing them even further. The report estimated that satellites could help prevent up to 5.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. This would amount to around one-sixth of the emissions cuts required to achieve net-zero by 2050.

The satellite launched by Inmarsat on Friday will play a vital role in this mission. The bus-sized satellite is en route to geostationary orbit, 36,000km (22,000 miles) above Earth, where it will aid the aviation and maritime industries. According to Mr Suri, this satellite, along with its twin, the I-6 F1, is the most sophisticated commercial communications satellite ever built.

One of the satellite’s technologies enables aircraft to be located in four dimensions, including latitude, longitude, altitude, and time. This innovation will aid pilots and air traffic controllers in calculating the shortest available routes and cruising at optimum altitudes.

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