Consideration of space debris in the life cycle assessment framework

Abstract : Several actors of or related to the European space industry, such as ArianeGroup and the European Space Agency (ESA), have identified life cycle assessment (according to ISO14040/44) as the most appropriate methodology to measure and minimise their environmental impact. Nevertheless, space systems deal with a strong particularity which adds new aspects considering the scope of the LCA framework. Space missions are the only human activity that crosses all segments of the atmosphere and stays “out” of the natural environment and ecosystems. Regarding space systems with a holistic approach, environmental impacts could occur not only in the conventional ecosphere but also in the outer space (i.e. the orbital environment).Consequently, the current scope of LCA studies should be broadened to take into account the on-orbit lifetime as well as the end-of-life disposal of the spacecraft. Yet, it is becoming a crucial point of the space mission design due to the future increase of the orbital population composed in a major part by space debris. In this way, LCA studies of space missions could indicate trade-offs not only between typical impact categories (toxicity and climate change for example) but also with regard to impacts generated in the orbital environment with a particular focus on space debris related impacts.Hence, the priority has been given to the integration of a new impact category called orbital space use in the life cycle impact assessment framework. To address the environmental burdens comprehensively in this new category, impact pathways linking elementary flows to environmental mechanisms (midpoint) and damages (endpoint) are developed within the Area-of-Protection ‘Natural resources’. Space debris is identified as the main stressor of the orbital environment. Thus, ‘characterisation factors’ are defined and calculated at midpoint level to assess the potential impact of a space mission on the orbital environment. The methodology is applied to a case study to prove its applicability: the potential impact of a theoretical space mission is addressed through the comparison of three disposal scenarios. Also, a first attempt regarding the characterisation of the endpoint damage is provided taking into account the economic externalities caused by space debris. Finally, remaining methodological challenges and perspectives for future work are provided.
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Thibaut Maury. Consideration of space debris in the life cycle assessment framework. Other. Université de Bordeaux, 2019. English. ⟨NNT : 2019BORD0051⟩. ⟨tel-02275822⟩

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