Why More Space Launches Could Be a Good Thing for the Climate | Space

The weather was mild on the evening of May 25 at the southern tip of the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The wind was gentle, the sky was clear, and even conditions in the Earth’s upper atmosphere were calm. It was, in every way, a promising night for a rocket launch. And at 7:41 P.M. local time that promise was fulfilled when an Electron booster from the space technology company Rocket Lab lifted off from the company’s launch site and carried a shoebox-sized infrared NASA satellite into a near-polar orbit around Earth.

The Electron launch was the first of two that Rocket Lab completed within less than two weeks for NASA’s Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment (PREFIRE), a 10-month mission to measure how much heat emanates into space from Antarctica and the Arctic. The satellites’ data will help inform models projecting the magnitude of one of climate change’s most frightening effects—the melting of polar ice sheets and the resulting sea-level rise. The mission, like Rocket Lab itself, is meant to punch well above its weight and is emblematic of the company’s plans for blending high-impact science with efficient and accessible space travel and manufacturing, says Rocket Lab’s founder and chief executive officer Peter Beck.

Rockets and space travel are carbon-intensive: a single launch can emit hundreds of tons of greenhouse gases. But Beck…

Source www.scientificamerican.com

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