Ecospheric life cycle impacts of annual global space activities

Wilson, Andrew Ross and Vasile, Massimiliano and Maddock, Christie A. and Baker, Keith J. (2022) Ecospheric life cycle impacts of annual global space activities. Science of the Total Environment, 834. 155305. ISSN 1879-1026 (

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This paper presents a first-order approximation of ecospheric life cycle impacts from annual global space activities across two scenarios using a streamlined Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA). The first scenario considers all space missions launched throughout the 2018 calendar year whilst the second is a futuristic scenario where affordable access to space significantly increases the prevalence of space operations. A new space-specific life cycle database and sustainable design tool called the Strathclyde Space Systems Database (SSSD) has been used to compile the inventory of each scenario and generate results across numerous impact categories. The results for each scenario are then compared against normalised values to portray their contribution towards annual worldwide impacts and their severity in terms of planetary boundaries. This allows the relative life cycle sustainability impacts of space activities to be benchmarked for the first time, forming a basis for evaluation and discussion. Overall, the study highlights that despite the relatively small footprint of the space industry at present, this will likely become much more meaningful in the future based on predicted trends. This places an added importance on addressing potential adverse life cycle impacts within the design process of future space technologies and products.