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Many people assume that satellites cannot be environmentally friendly as they immediately visualise a large rocket launching with flames beneath it and clouds of smoke around it. But the main boosters in the Ariane 5 satellite launcher use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as the propellant with the by-product on combustion being water!

Since launchers can launch more than one communication satellite at a time, the carbon footprint of the launcher should be spread across multiple satellites which will then operate for around 15 years. Solid propellant rockets only have about 10% of their mass as oil-based binder. Aluminum and ammonium perchlorate are produced by electrolytic processes. Over 67% of Ariane 5’s solid exhaust products are dumped into the first 20 km of the atmosphere and rained out. When in orbit, satellite use solar energy collected from large arrays of solar cells, which supply the satellite with all the electrical power it needs to function and transmit to earth.

Space Debris

While ESOA members behave responsibly in launching, flying and retiring their spacecraft, space debris caused by numerous factors remains a serious issue, heightening the threat of collision and disruption of critical satellite services relied on by businesses, consumers and government users alike. Space debris can be the result of defunct satellites that have not been re-orbited to graveyard orbits or de-orbited so that they burn up when re-entering the earth's atmosphere, spent rocket stages or fragments resulting from rare collisions of out of control satellites for example. Even if rare, one collision can result in millions of pieces of debris that float through space. As the orbits of these objects often overlap the trajectories of spacecraft, debris is a potential collision risk.

Satellite operators such as those in ESOA generally carry sufficient reserve fuel on board their satellites  so as to be able to intentionally fly their satellites into a so-called "graveyard orbit" at the end of their operational life. It is a responsible practice performed in order to lower the probability of collisions with operational spacecraft and of the generation of additional space debris.

Did you know?

It takes about the same energy to launch an Ariane 5 as to fly a Boeing 747 from London to New York! Ariane’s engines are also 3 times more efficient than those used by Boeing. So an entire year’s worth of Ariane 5 launches creates less greenhouse gas pollution than one evening’s airline flights from New York to London.· And if the world must eventually move towards a “hydrogen economy” then the technology required will come from the modern generation of space launchers.

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