Leaving the Planet Costs the Earth
We have accused Virgin Galactic's new spaceport of the Sin of LEED Green Buildings That Are Laughably Inappropriate, asking "what is the point of being ""both sustainable and sensitive to its surroundings" when your purpose for being is neither?"
Now Leo Hickman in the Guardian calls them out for the ride itself. He questions their claims that "every astronaut is an environmentalist," that "viewing earth from space would transform people's attitudes to the environment."
Hickman suggests that they watch a David Attenborough documentary, or perhaps the Discovery Network, instead.
The laws of physics tell us that it takes an awful lot of energy to escape the Earth's gravity - and that means plenty of rocket fuel. Virgin Galactic has long known that it's open to criticism about its environmental impact and has presented a positive spin, as is the hallmark of any Virgin venture at every available opportunity. The company says that it has built a "clean spaceship" and that the "CO2 emissions per passenger on a spaceflight will be equivalent to approximately 60% of a per passenger return commercial London/New York flight".
Hickman doesn't believe it.
It's hard to see how that calculation stacks up, but Virgin has yet to break down these figures so we have no real way of knowing. What it does say to support its environmental claims is that an "air launch means short rocket burn", the "carrier aircraft uses the latest highly efficient turbo fan jet engines", and that SpaceShipTwo's re-entry and landing are "unpowered". A "litres of fuel burned per flight" figure would probably better serve this particular debate, though.
He concludes that it is all a big waste of energy.
Why doesn't Virgin Galactic just call it as it is? Sure, sell your dreams of space flight to the super-rich if you must – I'm as drawn to the boyish wonder of it all as the rest of them - but let's not keep up the pretence that it isn't one of the most extravagant and self-centred uses of a fossil fuel imaginable.
More in the GuardianMore on Virgin GalacticContradiction in Terms Dept.: a LEED Certified SpaceportThe Four Sins of LEEDwashing: LEED Green Buildings That Perhaps Aren't Really GreenVirgin Galactic Unveils the World's Largest All Carbon Composite ...