In focus

Reach for the stars: will space elevators one day win the ‘green space race’ ?

Catapults, nanotubes and even magnets – Anthony Cuthbertson looks at the dream of a carbon neutral rocket launch and whether any of these methods will ever be able to get us into orbit

Sunday 03 December 2023 10:00 GMT
<p>How SpinLaunch’s orbital launcher might look once completed</p>

How SpinLaunch’s orbital launcher might look once completed

On a cool Florida evening in February, with several alligators floating nearby, a rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, sending a satellite into space. It was the second SpaceX rocket to launch that day – one of around 100 that the company will launch in 2023 – and would have been entirely unremarkable if not for the thousands of trees that had been planted prior to lift off.

These trees, and other carbon offsetting initiatives, made the Inmarsat-6 F2 mission the world’s first “carbon neutral rocket launch”. It marked a major milestone for a notoriously polluting industry, however a number of startups are now attempting to go even further by developing launch systems that negate the need for fossil fuels altogether.

Concepts include catapults, magnets, guns and even space elevators, which could deliver payloads into space using electricity alone.

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