Each flight of a SpaceX Falcon 9 or any other orbital rocket launch is about the same as a passenger jet like a 777 flying across the Atlantic.
The larger SpaceX Super Heavy Starship will use 1kg of methane for every 3.6 kg of oxygen. The Super Heavy Booster will use 3300 tons of fuel. 717 tons of methane. The Starship will use 1200 tons of fuel or 260 tons of methane. This would be 715 tons of CO2.
Sub-orbital flights should need only need about 25% of the fuel. This would reduce Starship emissions to about 200 tons of CO2 per flight.
The Super Heavy Starship would generate 8 times as much CO2 emissions as the Falcon 9. The Starship alone would be about double the CO2 emissions of the Falcon 9.
Calculations below would have about 2 days payback of the CO2 emissions (versus using coal) from the flights to launch space-based solar power using Super Heavy Starships.
The Falcon 9 rocket runs on highly refined kerosene. Each launch burns 29,600 gallons or 112,184 Kilograms, with each Kg of fuel releasing 3 Kg of CO2, so each launch releases 336,552 Kg of CO2.
A flight from London to New York City has a carbon footprint of 986 Kg, so a SpaceX launch is the equivalent of flying 341 people across the Atlantic. One 777-300 uses 45,220 gallons of fuel. One transatlantic flight of a 777 is considerably 52% more than a flight of the Falcon 9 which is about 513 tons of CO2. The Starship would have 40% more emissions. The Starship would be more equivalent to a crossing of the Pacific Ocean.
The Airbus 380 has 80,000 gallons of fuel. This would be 934 tons of CO2.
The 777 would have less emissions than a SpaceX Starship flight and the Airbus 380 would have more.
Elon Musk is planning to eventually put 1000 people into a Starship. They would ride in seating like a roller coaster and the actual flight would be less than one-hour. This means the per person emissions would be less than a 777 with three times the seating capacity but double the per flight emissions for a trans-Atlantic crossing.
The World currently has about 30,000 large passenger jets. There are 4 billion passenger trips each year and this is increasing and should double by 2035. About 10 million flights per year.
Rocket travel replacing passenger jets would be better in terms of CO2 than existing aviation.
How Much CO2 for Launching Space-Based Solar Power?
1000 tons of CO2 per gigawatt-hour of coal power.
A 1-gigawatt coal plant at 60% operating capacity would be about 5 Terawatt hours per year. 5 million tons of CO2 per year.
Space-based solar in the right orbit would have almost 100% capacity factor. Inefficiencies beaming it down. So 600MW delivered to the ground would be 5 terawatt-hours per year. If the system was 2 kilograms per kilowatt. Then 1.2 million kilograms for 600 MW. 120-ton launches will come from the SpaceX Super Heavy. 10 launches. 27000 tons of CO2). 2 days of payback for the CO2. If the weight can be cut in half then 1 day of emissions payback. Even if the weight of the space-based solar system was higher it would still be emissions efficient.
Elon Musk has talked about getting the cost per launch of the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship down to $2 million per launch. This would mean about $20 million to launch a space-based solar coal plant replacement.
SpaceX Could Revolutionize Global Travel
I believe that SpaceX could take over long-haul flights. First for package delivery to prove the 10,000X improvement in safety before flying people.
SpaceX should also exceed NASA’s budget in revenue by deploying the Starlink satellite network. Direct TV makes $40 billion a year in revenue. Direct TV shows that satellite constellations can make a lot of revenue.
Safe, rapidly reusable rockets can be used to speed up global connections with 25X the speed.
The future history of SpaceX will be as follows:
* SpaceX capture over 60% of the commercial launch market. This has already happened.
* SpaceX launches and starts operating Starlink mega constellation. 120 production Starlink satellites are already launched and the initial service will start in mid-2020. There should be 1400 Starlink satellites in orbit by the end of 2020.
* SpaceX flies Starship to orbit in 2020. In 2022 or 2023, SpaceX rolls out its ultra-rapid delivery package service.
* SpaceX annual revenue surpasses NASA’s budget by 2025
* Around 2027, SpaceX is operating over 1000 flights per day for 1 to 6-hour international deliveries.
* Around 2030, SpaceX proves the safety of rockets after millions of flights for human one-hour anywhere passenger service. There would already be over one-hundred Spaceports and thousands of Starships.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.