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Assessing the impact of space debris on orbital resource in life cycle assessment: A proposed method and case study

Maury, Thibaut, Loubet, Philippe, Trisolini, Mirko, Gallice, Aurélie, Sonnemann, Guido, Colombo, Camilla
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.667 pp. 780-791
aircraft, case studies, industry, life cycle assessment
The space sector is a new area of development for Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies. However, it deals with strong particularities which complicate the use of LCA. One of the most important is that the space industry is the only human activity crossing all stages of the atmosphere during the launch event or the atmospheric re-entry. As a result, interactions occur not only with the natural environment but also with the orbital environment during the use phase and the end-of-life of space missions. In this context, there is a lack of indicators and methods to characterise the complete life-cycle of space systems including their impact on the orbital environment. The end-of-life of spacecraft is of particular concern: space debris proliferation is today a concrete threat for all space activities. Therefore, the proposed work aims at characterising the orbital environment in term of space debris crossing the orbital resource. A complete methodology and a set of characterisation factors at midpoint level are provided. They are based on two factors: (i) the exposure to space debris in a given orbit and (ii) the severity of a potential spacecraft break-up leading to the release of new debris in the orbital environment. Then, we demonstrate the feasibility of such approach through three theoretical post-mission disposal scenarios based on the Sentinel-1A mission parameters. The results are discussed against the propellant consumption needed in each case with the purpose of addressing potential ‘burden shifting’ that could occur between the Earth environment and the orbital one.