The space industry is growing and innovating at a pace not seen since the days of the Moon landings. Fifty years ago nearly everything related to space was a government-sponsored project. In 21st-century space, rockets and satellites are most often corporate investments or public-private partnerships.

Untethered from government leashes, the global space industry looks and operates increasingly like global aviation. Reusability. Regular flight cadence. Mass production of spacecraft and launch vehicles. Analysts predict that the space industry’s contribution to global GDP could cross the 1 percent threshold by 2040. We can reasonably construct future scenarios where the space and aviation industries have comparable economic clout.

Credit: CORDS

A great deal of aviation’s remarkable airframe and propulsion developments since World War II have been guided by sustainability concerns, mainly focused on jet engine emissions. Modern jet engines emit much less soot and gas pollutants than engines emitted 50 years ago. The pressure to reduce jet emissions has been good for aviation because honing turbine combustion to near theoretical maximum efficiency has had the

The new private launch industry can learn a lot from aviation about sustainability.

Go to this article in the printed February issue of Scientific American on “Space Pollution” by Martin Ross of The Aerospace Corporation and Leonard David at:

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