Planet Earth surrounded by satellites: Unique aspects of LCA of future launchers

Main Presenter:    Karin Treyer 


When you check the weather forecast, orientate with GPS, retrieve data from climate or environmental monitoring, or listen to the radio, it is likely that you have relied on satellite services. In the coming years, launchers will transport thousands of satellites, cargo, or testing probes to orbits around the globe. This means: Orbits will be crowded with space debris, space cleaning objects and reusable launchers will be designed, objects will re-enter atmosphere, and emissions will find their way to (and eventually accumulate in) the various atmospheric launchers. A good idea with regards to environmental impacts? We cannot quantify this yet.
The Future Launchers Preparatory Program (FLPP) department at the European Space Agency wants to learn about environmental impacts of launchers and related space and ground infrastructure already in early development phases. A project consortium thus is working on a software for simplified LCA of space mission related phases, products, and components: The Assessment and Comparison Tool (ACT). Such LCA is used to evaluate potential future designs of e.g. reusable launchers or active debris removal stages next to possible propellants or space specific or novel materials. ACT will allow prospective LCA (pLCA) of launcher related aspects by connecting the best of pLCA with models calculating trajectories, emissions to the atmospheric layers during launch and re-entry, and a space debris index. As this is a rather novel and emerging field, new approaches with regards to the Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) have to be taken by both extending existing LCIA methods and adding new ones. A
robustness rating needs to be introduced to the software in order to visualize uncertainties related to data, LCIA, and early design decisions.
ACT is foreseen to be used by several stakeholders in the space sector, and partially in not yet established processes. If we want ACT to create actual impact, we need to design it such that it is easy to use also by non-LCA experts, and such that the results can be used in decision processes and eco-design.
This presentation will showcase the status quo of ACT, point out the specifics of it with regards to LCA of emerging technologies in early development phases, share insights into our ongoing software development, and seek inputs from the audience.

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