How will a Philippines space startup help reduce plastic waste emissions on earth?

How a Filipino space startup will help reduce plastic waste emissions on earth. Source: Orbital Exploration Technologies

Philippines wants to be a leader in green space tech

  • Philippines’ first rocket company will use renewable, low-cost rocket fuel to send its first rocket into space

The Philippines’ first commercial spaceflight company, Orbital Exploration Technologies, is developing the country’s first suborbital launch vehicles, and they will be powered by renewable, low-cost fuel made from waste plastics.

The space travel startup is building a suborbital two-stage rocket, the OrbitX Haribon SLS-1, that will be able to effectively launch payloads of up to 200kg, which Orbital Exploration Technologies (or OrbitX) is targeting to launch between 2023 and 2024.

The startup was founded by Dexter Baño Jr. in 2019, the same year that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the Philippine Space Act, which has paved the way for the setting up of a new Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA).

PhilSA will oversee the establishment of the framework for Philippine space policy around six key development areas with respect to space science and technology applications (SSTAs), including national security and development; hazard management and climate studies; space research and development; space industry capacity building; space education and awareness; and international cooperation.

But the mobilization of resources for space exploration might draw flak in 2020, even as the Philippines still wades through its pandemic responses that have seriously impacted the local economy. But Baño Jr. believes the renewable, low-cost propellant his firm is developing to power the OrbitX Haribon SLS-1, will be beneficial in both outer space as well as on terra firma.

“We have a global waste problem. At the same time, people are complaining we are spending too much on space without paying attention on climate change. So because of that, we decided to tackle this problem,” the founder told SpaceTech Asia.

The firm dubbed its proprietary fuel OrbitX RP-2, named after the refined kerosene RP-1 typically used in rockets. OrbitX RP-2 is made from renewable kerosene derived from waste plastics. “We used a process called pyrolysis and we observed that the properties of that fuel are similar to rocket grade kerosene or RP-1, said Baño Jr. “Solving two problems – sustaining earth and accessing space.”

OrbitX is also in the research phase of developing another organic, sustainable fuel. This one is a methane fuel derived from algae, being developed in partnership with the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Baño Jr. thinks the cheap, biodegradable fuel made from waste plastics should be a pillar of green, sustainable practices both on- and off-planet. He envisions OrbitX as a “global pioneer of waste to energy for space technology, and to be able to provide technologies that will benefit both earth and space in the long run.

“We want to be a major provider of cheap, green and sustainable space access to developing countries like the Philippines while preserving the earth,” he asserts.

OrbitX hopes to use its renewable energy-powered OrbitX Haribon SLS-1 to conduct 6 launches a year. Each launch is projected to cost US$4.959 million, which the company says will be 13% cheaper compared to American firm Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, that is preparing its 16th launch to deploy 30 small satellites into low earth orbit on November 15.