A process-based life cycle sustainability assessment of the space-based solar power concept

Wilson, Andrew Ross and Vasile, Massimiliano and Oqab, Haroon B. and Dietrich, George B. (2020) A process-based life cycle sustainability assessment of the space-based solar power concept. In: 71st International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2020, 2020-10-12 - 2020-10-14.

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    For space-based solar power (SBSP) to be considered as a truly viable renewable energy technology, there should be a clear environmental benefit gained from its application. Additionally, given the scale of investment and engineering development, the price of energy must remain comparable to terrestrial-based generation systems for commercial feasibility. For this reason, a process-based life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) study was conducted to identify the life cycle environmental, economic and social impacts of the 1978 DOE/NASA Solar Power Satellite (SPS) Reference System. This was one of the first ever LCSA studies for space systems to be performed worldwide and was applied using a new LCSA tool for space missions developed at the University of Strathclyde. Taking a burden-based approach, the tool has been used to calculate environmental impacts across a wide range of different environmental impact categories and quantify costs over the system life cycle. The inclusion of social impacts adds additional depth to the analysis by showcasing the sociological impacts of the system on various stakeholder groups in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The calculated life cycle impacts were then analysed further to identify potential hotspots through multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) and by measuring the results against annual global impacts (AGIs) and planetary boundaries (PBs). Life cycle CO2e emissions and costs were then compared to terrestrial energy generation systems in order to benchmark the relative performance of the technology as part of the conventional energy mix. The results suggest that whilst the DOE/NASA SPS Reference System can generally be described as a ‘green’ and ‘cost-effective’ system, several design improvements can and should be made to lessen its life cycle impacts. Therefore, it is proposed that the identified hotspots are used as a baseline for comparison or as mission drivers to continually improve future SPS designs.