Implementing life cycle sustainability assessment for improved space mission design

Wilson, Andrew R. and Vasile, Massimiliano and Maddock, Christie and Baker, Keith (2023) Implementing life cycle sustainability assessment for improved space mission design. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, 19 (4). pp. 1002-1022. ISSN 1551-3777 (

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Within the space sector, the application of Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (E-LCA) is beginning to emerge as a credible and compelling method for scientifically quantifying environmental impacts of space missions. However, E-LCA does not fully align with the concept of triple bottom line sustainability, whilst the combination of all three sustainability dimensions (environment, society and economy) within a single life cycle study has thus far never been attempted within the space industry. Moving towards a Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) is, therefore, a logical next step for the space sector to allow these three sustainability dimensions to be addressed. Consequently, this paper presents the underlying principles of a new LCSA framework for space missions and demonstrates its applicability for improving system-level design concepts based on the interaction between sustainability dimensions. The framework was formed based on a systematic literature review to analyse the background, issues and knowledge gaps related to life cycle methodologies, as well as context-specific sustainability aspects. The framework has been implemented within a life cycle database called the Strathclyde Space Systems Database (SSSD). Using the SSSD, the framework was tested on a mission concept called MÌOS to demonstrate how changes in the design for a circular economy and other sustainability-based principles will affect the functionality of the mission at system level. It is envisaged that this framework will enable engineers to create sustainable space systems, technologies and products that are not only cost-efficient, eco-efficient and socially responsible, but also ones that can easily justify and evidence their sustainability.