Space Industries and Environmental Impact

Space Industries and Environmental Impact

Fabrizio Poscente, Head of Mechanical Parts and Materials Engineering, Thales Alenia Space [EPA:HO]

Fabrizio Poscente, Head of Mechanical Parts and Materials Engineering, Thales Alenia Space [EPA:HO]

Over the last few years, the space industry has developed considerably, taking on an increasingly important role in our everyday lives.

Starting as a high-technology scientific sector, aiming to explore the Solar system and the universe, it has gradually been transformed into a service industry to improve the quality of our lives.

The efficient, accessible communication and exploration we have today, with the possibility of staying in contact in even the most remote corners of our beautiful planet, we owe to the communication satellites and their capacity to exchange an increasing amount of data in less time.

But the space industry does not only allow us to communicate better and more quickly, but it also supplies technical solutions we use every day and regularly: I refer, for example, to simple stretch socks for shoes and technical clothing, to unique, light fabrics for hostile environments (severe cold, great heat), fireproof materials for fire-fighters or thermal blankets to protect patients, through to water purification filters or even CAT scans for medical examinations.

All this has been carried out and became consumer goods, thanks to the space industry, its technological research, and the solutions found, tested, and adopted in the multiple commercial and scientific satellite missions.

Without forgetting, however, our existential priority: planet Earth and its well-being.

“The increased volumes recorded starting from the new millennium have transformed space from a niche market for just a few specialists to a global market for everyone”

The increased volumes recorded starting from the new millennium have transformed space from a niche market for just a few specialists to a global market for everyone.

This rapid increase leads sector specialists to ask essential questions to which an answer is required:

• Does massive development, in addition to well-being, also create a disproportionate rise in the consumption of energy resources and raw materials?

• Has the more significant number of satellites generated increased production waste, with a consequent need for disposal?

• Is the ever-increasing number of satellites in disuse in space creating pollution in the Solar system?

Today the space industry calls for increasing production to meet the market demands, but sector industries are forced to produce better, with an ever-decreasing environmental impact.

To do so, a few years ago, Thales Alenia Space adopted a carefully studied policy to control and manage the entire production chain with increasing efficiency, from the choice of materials to procurement, use of the production cycle up to its re-use or disposal.

The sustainable strategy of Thales Alenia Space for the entire production chain

Harmonization of the Thales Alenia Space production sites established throughout Europe is carried out with the management of a single database of materials, available for consultation by everyone and managed by specialized technicians and engineers, in which updated technical information is given, along with purchasing procedures and details of the manufacturers of all materials, mechanical parts and electronic parts, qualified for space use.

This allows for a rapid exchange of information between technical entities of the various sites with countless benefits such as, for example:

• Immediate verification of qualified material and its availability to allow a reduction in search time and, above all, limit procurement of samples that are then rejected.

• Exchange of data on the material usage to avoid repeating activities already carried out at other sites. This allows a limitation of the test phases and technological verification with operating cost and waste reduction.

• Possibility of unified procurement to reduce the costs of production in terms of raw materials used by manufacturers

• Careful selection of suppliers and verification of their production sites; offshoring has allowed for a major reduction in product costs, yet to the detriment of greater pollution and more harmful emissions due to the air transport and shipping necessary. An ever more essential criterion in the choices of Thales Alenia Space is the proximity of suppliers and their production sites.

This constant awareness also entails continuous attention dedicated to the technical design choices.

The choice of material is now no longer based purely on its technical characteristics and compliance with specific project requirements, but also on its capacity to produce with a low environmental impact, on its simplicity of procurement, its complete usability in the production processes, or re-usability, ultimately also considering its environmental impact at the end of the satellite’s useful life.

The launch of this virtuous process, which is structured industrially, aims to ensure a more ecological development of satellites in the medium-term, making this highly technological sector friendly towards the earth’s environment and the space in which it operates.

Behind our ideas to create carrier rockets that return to the launch base, airplanes that can travel outside the atmosphere, shuttles with a crew that return to the atmosphere, orbiting stations, multi-service satellites, probes for planetary exploration, and structures established on other planets, is our capacity to select materials and structure production processes that respect the environment in which we live and that we are set to explore.

It is, without a doubt, difficult to strike a perfect balance. Still, it is a social duty we cannot avoid in order to offer future generations the possibility to have extraordinary opportunities to be exploited in a habitable, welcoming planet immersed in the Solar system, where human presence is not marked only by wrecks or abandoned debris.

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