Integrating sustainability in the design of space activities: development of eco-design tools for space projects

The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched the Clean Space initiative with the objective of increasing attention to the environmental impacts of its activities, both on Earth and in space. In order to better understand the environmental impacts of the space sector, ESA successfully applied Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to assess the environmental impacts of space projects over their whole life cycle, from resource extraction through manufacture and use to end-of-life, covering spacecraft and launcher-related activities as well as ground segment activities. ESA has adopted the eco-design approach to design future space missions in a more environmentally friendly way: eco-design is a preventive approach to mitigate the environmental impacts of a product (good or service) as early as possible in the design phase. ESA wishes to disseminate life cycle thinking and eco-design by establishing a common framework that can also be used by other European space organisations when performing space mission design. This framework includes methodological and software tools as well as a database dedicated to space activities. The eco-design software tool is currently under development and testing at ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility (CDF). It will be connected to CDF’s design framework, i.e. the Open Concurrent Design Tool (OCDT). In order for system engineers to be able to consider environmental performance as a criterion in their design choices, the tool will provide the following results. Firstly, multicriteria results (i.e. different environmental indicators measuring the impact on climate change, non-renewable resource consumption, air pollution, water pollution, etc.) will allow identifying the “hotspots” in the analysed system: which activities in the life-cycle mostly contribute to the environmental impacts? Where is there mostly room for improvement? Secondly, the calculation of a single environmental score (aggregating the multi-criteria results) will make the comparison of several design options easier. The eco-design tool relies on a database which contains environmental data on each individual activity in the life-cycle of a space project (material production, manufacturing processes, etc.). The robustness of the results provided by the eco-design tool greatly depends on the robustness of the database, and for that it is crucial that the database be as representative of the space sector as possible: it needs to depict as closely as possible the specificities of activities carried out in the space sector. A major challenge for this is the data availability for “space-specific” activities, for which the European space industry has a major role to play, in view of cleaner and more sustainable space activities.