How to Win in the Aerospace Sector with Life Cycle Assessment

Innovation in the aerospace sector brings both direct and indirect technological benefits to humankind because these technologies are also adopted and/or repurposed in other sectors. As these technologies become more dominant in the market, their sustainability must also be considered. Life cycle assessment (LCA) helps you to identify the environmental hotspots of your system or product and empowers you to improve your designs early in their development, saving both resources and costs. In addition to crafting project proposals and funding applications to get your project off the ground, EurA AG can support you by conducting LCAs of products and systems and identifying at what stage improvements and savings can be made.

Sustainability in the Aerospace Sector and Benefits Beyond

Space can be utilised to benefit humans and meet future challenges on Earth. Possible applications include:

  • observing Earth;
  • telecommunications;
  • satellite navigation; and
  • commercialisation.

An important benefit of producing aerospace technologies and services is that they can and have been applied to solve non-aerospace problems. For instance, remote sensing has been used to quantify the association between malaria cases and rainfall, vegetation indices and temperature [1] in Ethiopia. The results informed public health decision-making. Another example is the use of satellite communications in the development of telemedicine. Thus, there is a wide-ranging potential for aerospace technologies to benefit both humankind and nature (through ecological sustainability).

However, to tackle climate challenges and cope with stakeholder’s requirements, the ecological sustainability of aerospace missions and technologies (equipment, components, materials) and optimisation potentials need to be quantified.

Life Cycle Assessment for the Aerospace Sector

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a methodology for thoroughly evaluating the environmental impacts of your products, such as equipment and corresponding components, as well as the materials incorporated in these products. LCA is a structured, internationally standardized method based on ISO 14040/14044.

There are four phases of a LCA:

  1. defining its goal and scope
  2. inventorying the material and energy inputs and outputs of the system
  3. assessing the environmental impacts arising from the system
  4. the interpretation of these results.

Commonly studied environmental impact categories include climate change and mineral and metal resource use.

ESA (European Space Agency) has been pioneering the application of LCA to space projects, however simultaneously emphasizing the importance of common rules and guidelines from the beginning that allow the whole sector to carry out LCAs and communicate the results in a consistent way. For these purposes, ESA has developed a space-specific LCA handbook [2], aiding LCA practitioners in performing space sector LCAs at the system level (space system/launch segment/ground segment/space segment) and level of equipment/component/material/process. By performing LCA studies by means of these standards and guidelines:

  • the environmental impact of each component and sub-system at each stage of the product’s life cycle can be quantified
  • the hotspots over the lifecycle are found
  • production processes can be optimised
  • potentials for material and energy savings can be identified

With such comprehensive analysis, an LCA operates as an information source for greener design (ecodesign) and identifying cost drivers. This is an important aspect because most of the environmental impacts of a mission are set by the early design decisions. In addition, with a comprehensive LCA to hand, the sustainability of your project can be demonstrated to customers, prospective investors, and funding organisations.

Our offer

EurA offers you experts for the space industry (Aachen) as well as experts regarding Life Cycle Assessment (Erfurt). You will find more information about our sustainability consulting services here. Feel free to contact us if you have questions regarding either of these topics.

 

Author: Daniel Wilkinson


[1] A. Midekisa, G. Senay, G. M. Henebry, P. Semuniguse, M. C. Wimberly, Remote sensing-based time series models for malaria early warning in the highlands of Ethiopia. Malaria Journal. 11, 165 (2012), doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-165.
[2] ESA LCA Working Group, Space system Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) guidelines (2016).
Daniel Wilkinson

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