Virgin Galactic Spaceships to Be Powered by Algae-Based Biofuels?


Earlier this month, Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn tried to convince us that space travel will turn us all into environmentalists by showing us our big blue ball from a distance. Now it looks like the space travel arm of the Virgin Group has more concrete plans to go green.

Virgin Fuels is working on biofuels to power the Mothership Eve–the craft that will launch the spaceship into the atmosphere. Branson’s Virgin Fuels is also developing biobutanol (a biofuel made from algae) to power the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. Thus far, Mothership Eve test flights have only used conventional kerosene (SpaceShipTwo has not yet been tested). Even running on kerosene, Whitehorn claims that CO2 emissions per passenger on a Virgin Galactic flight will only be 60% of the carbon footprint of a round trip airplane flight from London to New York. 

Next month, the Virgin Group begins construction on a $198 million vertical launching pad and runway facility in New Mexico. The facility will also contain CO2-saving features, including a hangar facility with solar thermal panels and a passive cooling system that chills hot air from the outside through a series of tubes.

Proof of the Mothership Eve and SpaceShipTwo’s low carbon emissions will be displayed next year when the spacecrafts perform test flights together. It’s hard to believe that space travel could ever have a lower carbon footprint than airplane travel, but if Virgin succeeds with its biofuel program, the company might just cause its detractors to shut up.

[Via Biofuels Digest]

Related: Virgin Galactic: Space Flights Will Turn Us All Into Environmentalists
Continental Test Flight Uses Algae as FuelAS