The United States is quickly moving toward mandating that pleasure vehicles in the United States emit zero tailpipe emissions. Whether you agree with this as a wise policy or not, it is the goal of our present administration, and of many automakers. Some automakers are already there. Others have popular zero-local-emissions vehicles on sale today and they can’t keep up with demand. So why are we collectively applauding a passenger vehicle that burns chemical propellants so the wealthiest among us can look out the window and enjoy the view?
If only one American or a handful were planning to spew pollution out the back end of a rocket (oh, and the spaceplane is lifted to a starting altitude by another plane burning hydrocarbons) it wouldn’t really matter much. However, Richard Branson says that the goal of his company is to take everyone to space. Here is the company’s official statement: “We are at the vanguard of a new industry determined to pioneer twenty-first-century spacecraft, which will open space to everybody — and change the world for good.” Are more emissions in our atmosphere good? Don’t tell my 10-year old who practically has a seizure if we put the trash in the wrong recycling bin.
The BBC reports that the Virgin Galactic spaceplane burns hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene aka HTPB. This solid rocket fuel has been in use for a half-century. What are the atomic constituents of HTPB? Carbon and hydrogen. It’s a hydrocarbon. The consistency is often described as rubbery or plasticky. Who remembers when plastic was also something we wanted to use less of?
Here’s a quick primer on HTPB courtesy of Wikipedia. Use Google to check out its chemical makeup if you wish.
Were we sending spaceplanes to near the edge of space for science, or to study, let’s say climate change, the expenditure of hydrocarbons could be justified by the gains. Sending bajillinaries to the edge of space using chemical propellants so they can look out the window and check off a box on their bucket lists seems no more sensible than 797 horsepower passenger cars burning gasoline buy the bucketfull.
If you oppose using chemical propellants to launch one-percenters up for a peek at the horizon sign this petition by posting a comment below.
Image Note: Image courtesy of Virgin Galactic's Media Assets page.
John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin