What is Net Zero?
Net Zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount of emissions removed from the atmosphere. To achieve net zero, a country, business, or individual needs to either reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum or offset them by removing an equivalent amount of emissions from the atmosphere through activities such as reforestation, carbon capture and storage, or other technologies.
How Does the Space Economy Help?
The space economy, encompassing various industries related to space exploration, satellite technology, and space-based services, has a unique relationship with net zero goals. The space industry can both contribute to and benefit from efforts to achieve net zero emissions. Below are key aspects of this relationship.
Earth-observing satellites provide crucial data for monitoring and understanding climate change. These satellites help track greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and other environmental factors, enabling better policy-making and more effective climate change mitigation strategies. Some examples:
- The European Space Agency's (ESA) Copernicus program: A series of Earth observation satellites that monitor various aspects of the environment, including greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and ice cover.
- NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3): A satellite instrument that measures carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, providing vital information on the sources and sinks of this greenhouse gas.
Space-based solar power (SBSP) is a concept that involves collecting solar energy in space and transmitting it wirelessly back to Earth. SBSP could potentially provide a clean and abundant source of energy, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and contributing to net zero targets.
Off-World Resource Extraction
In the long term, mining resources from the Moon, asteroids, or other celestial bodies may help reduce the environmental impact of mining on Earth, indirectly contributing to net zero efforts by reducing emissions associated with terrestrial resource extraction.
Sustainable Practices Within the Space Industry
As the space economy continues to grow, it is important to incorporate sustainable practices in the design, launch, and operation of spacecraft and other space infrastructure. This includes reducing the environmental footprint of rocket launches, minimizing space debris, and developing efficient recycling and waste management systems for space missions. Some examples include:
- SpaceX's reusable rocket technology: Reduces the environmental impact of launches by allowing rockets to be reused multiple times, lowering emissions and waste associated with building new rocket stages.
- The European Space Agency's Clean Space initiative: Aims to minimize the environmental impact of space activities, including developing technologies for “green” propulsion, reducing space debris, and improving end-of-life disposal for satellites.
Innovations developed for space exploration can have applications on Earth, potentially contributing to cleaner technologies and processes that help achieve net zero targets. For example, advances in energy storage, materials science, and resource management for space missions could be adapted for terrestrial use, reducing emissions and promoting sustainability. Some examples include:
- NASA's Advanced Plant Habitat (APH): A plant growth system developed for space missions that can also be applied to agriculture on Earth. The APH's innovative design maximizes the use of available resources, such as water, nutrients, and energy, potentially helping to reduce emissions and promote sustainable farming practices.
- Lightweight, high-efficiency solar panels developed for space applications: These advanced solar panels can be used on Earth to improve the efficiency of solar energy systems, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of electricity generation.
The space economy can play a significant role in supporting global efforts to achieve net zero emissions by providing critical data, developing innovative technologies, and promoting sustainable practices. At the same time, the industry itself must also strive to minimize its environmental impact and contribute to net zero goals.