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SpaceX Starship Can Be Better for the Environment Than the Large Cargo Planes

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Commenters have criticisms and concerns about using rockets in place of airplanes for cargo delivery. The 2021 Nextbigfuture prediction of a SpaceX air cargo future was confirmed as a goal by SpaceX board member Antonio Gracias in an April, 2023 All-in-podcast.

Concerns about Pollution and CO2

A Boeing 747 uses about 1 gallon (about 4 liters) of fuel every second. Over the course of a 10-hour flight, it might burn 36,000 gallons (150,000 liters). The 747 burns approximately 5 gallons of fuel per mile (12 liters of fuel per kilometer). Large planes are burning 0.01 gallons per person per mile (5/500). Plane’s are getting 100 miles per gallon (42 kilometers per liter) per person! Not bad when you consider that the 747 is flying at 550 mph (900 kph).

Global fuel consumption by commercial airlines reached an all-time high of 95 billion gallons in 2019. This was about 6 million barrels per day. Global CO2 from commercial aviation is over 1 billion tons.

An Airbus A380 holds 380 tons of fuel. However, the Airbus A380 and all airplanes are air breathing. They get their oxygen from the atmosphere. SpaceX Starship holds 1200 tons of fuel which includes oxygen. One transpacific flight would be 720 tons of CO2 for the largest Airbus versus 675 tons for the SpaceX Starship. The 720 tons of CO2 for the Airbus is a calculation by Andrew Steele. Everyday Astronaut has slightly different numbers that give an advantage to the largest airplanes for CO2.

The cargo 747-200 can carry 105 tons of payload up to 6800 nautical miles.

The single stage starship will have range of about 6000-8000 mile and could achieve payloads of 200-300 tons on a suborbital flight.

If Suborbital Starship has 200 tons of payload then the per transpacific flight CO2 would definitely be less by cargo weight. If Suborbital Starship has 300 tons of payload then the per transpacific flight CO2 would definitely be less by cargo weight than a 747-200 cargo plane.

Most of the rocket thrust would be in the first few minutes before it reaches the Mesosphere and minimally in the Stratosphere.

When SpaceX Starship is flying passengers, because the flight time will be about 30 minutes this will enable high density seating. It will be like a longer roller coaster ride. Up to 1000 people can fly at each flight.

Rocket Pollution

From Goatguy
Moving to a world of hourly rockets from perhaps hundreds of worldwide shipping ports, 365 days a year means millions of tons of CO2 and H2O methane-burn byproducts being injected to both the lower and higher atmospheres. Stratosphere and beyond.

Now, let us recall that when the out-of-the-blue South Pacific volcano blew its top a couple of years ago in the ‘most significant eruption since Krakatoa’ as many reporters dutifully quipped, it wasn’t too long before the climatologists were seeing the stratospheric plume of H2O as potentially being a significant contributor to long-term global warming, water vapor being such an efficient blanket gas.

So I ask, what of this, in the context of hundreds of thousands of rocket shots a year going down? Of course it isn’t in the interest of the rah-rah team(s) to notice the little turds in the punch bowl. But there they are. Turds.

Color me purple and call me an eggplant … but I’ll be equally purple with surprise should the environmentalists fail to wake up and forget to bytch about this new polluter.

Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut went over the pollution of rockets.

Methane, or (when burnt with liquid oxygen) methalox. SpaceX’s Starship, Blue Origin’s New Glenn’s first stage and ULA’s Vulcan first stage run on Methane.

Methalox is probably the next most clean after hydrogen, which makes sense since it is such a similar compound. So when burnt, methane just becomes CO2 and water vapor along with a bit of NOx as well. Methane in the atmosphere is a powerful greenhouse gas but when burned and split into CO2 and H20 there is less warming.

Methane’s solar absorption sets off a cascade of events that reduces its overall warming effect by about 30 percent, researchers report March 16 in Nature Geoscience. They ysed a computational model of Earth’s climate. When they took the traditional approach — considering only methane’s longwave absorbance — they estimated that the gas has caused 0.2 degrees Celsius of warming since preindustrial times, out of 1.06 degrees C total warming. But when they also included shortwave absorbance, methane’s contribution to warming fell to about 0.16 degrees C. In addition to warming the planet, methane is also thought to increase global precipitation, due to greater evaporation of water with higher temperatures. But the researchers found that inclusion of shortwave absorbance also reduced methane’s precipitation effect, from a predicted 0.3 percent increase in precipitation (based on longwave absorbance alone), down to an increase of about 0.18 percent.

The Starship would not need a booster for point-to-point travel on Earth. This would mean 25% of the CO2 emissions of a full stack Super Heavy Starship. This would be 675 tons of CO2 per flight.

Other Issues

Other concerns were about sound pollution, terrorism, landing issues and if there is a market for sub-24 hour international deliveries. These will be addressed in follow up articles.

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SpaceX Starship Can Be Better for the Environment Than the Large Cargo Planes Reviewed by RP on April 24, 2023 Rating: 5

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