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PEGASUS 2023 conference for Enrico

Published on

30 Apr 2024

Enrico Tormena took part in the PEGASUS 2023 conference held in Rome on April 14 and 15, 2023, to present his research work carried out during his internship at ESA: a paper on the Clean Space initiative aimed at the sustainability of space activities.

What was your objective in taking part in this conference?

The aim of my participation was to present the research work I carried out during my internship at the European Spastial Agency. In particular, I worked on the Clean Space initiative, where the sustainability of space activities is the key objective. My contributions have focused on the Life Cycle Assessment method. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a scientific approach to assessing the environmental impacts of a product, service or system over its entire life cycle, from production to end-of-life. LCA is also used to assess the environmental impacts of space activities, including rocket launch, satellite manufacturing, satellite operations and satellite end-of-life. For example, rocket launches have a significant environmental impact, particularly in terms of the greenhouse gases and pollutants released into the atmosphere. The environmental impact of satellite manufacture and operation depends on the technology used and the materials involved, as well as the lifetime and destination of the satellites. This gave me the opportunity to work on interesting projects such as Ariane Group rockets and ESA satellites.

What did your work involve?

Enrico Tormena

I was able to present an innovative methodology for rapidly estimating the atmospheric impact of aerosols emitted by launchers in the stratosphere, which represent one of the major global warming impacts in rocket LCA.

This methodology couples the theoretical knowledge available in the spatial and environmental literature, taking as a reference the report produced by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). In addition, we had to avoid falling prey to the phenomenon of greenwashing, which is developing in the space industry, a practice that consists of exaggerating or misleading about the positive environmental impact of a product, service or company, in order to present itself as more environmentally friendly than it really is. Green” or “sustainable” ergols without providing solid evidence are examples of this. To avoid greenwashing and provide the context for more reliable results, I presented a possible methodology to facilitate eco-design processes using an index called “LCA single score”. An LCA single score is a method for aggregating the results of a life cycle assessment (LCA) into a single number. The aim of the single score is to provide a simplified measure of the overall environmental impact of a product or system, which can be used to compare different products or systems. However, the single score can mask important information about the specific environmental impacts of each stage in the life cycle of a product or system.

How did your presentation go?

The part of the conference dedicated to students took place entirely on Saturday. My presentation took place on Saturday morning in the special building of La Sapienza University, close to the Colosseum. Around 20 people attended, including professors, researchers and students. The subject presented was highly innovative and rarely tackled in engineering universities. As a result, most of the questions I was asked were more curiosity questions than technical ones. However, I’m convinced that the presentation generated a great deal of interest, given the questions received even after my speech. The most difficult question I’ve been asked is: “What do you think is the impact of the space sector compared with the other most polluting sectors?”. Obviously, there’s no simple answer. It all depends on the type of environmental impact under consideration. In general, it’s more common to talk about climate change. I have therefore mentioned the work carried out by young European researchers whom I had the opportunity to meet during my internship. Their study shows that even in a worst-case scenario for the space industry, such as the launch of a large number of mega-constellations of satellites into orbit, the sector is unlikely to pollute in the same way as commercial aviation.

And the rest of the conference?

At the end of the presentations, the host students from the University of Rome volunteered to show us around the building and the activities they carry out. They introduced us to the Aerospace Engineering Student Club, which organizes numerous competitive and non-competitive activities. For example, they showed us the racing car they had built, as well as a motorcycle. However, the most interesting system was a rocket developed to take part in EUROC, a student competition for experimental rockets. Talking to the people in charge of the program, I discovered that they are developing a hybrid propulsion engine for future versions of the rocket. As I’m currently working on the development of a hybrid-powered micro-launcher, we’ve exchanged a lot of useful information. What’s more, the start-up I work for is growing fast and will soon need to expand its team of engineers. So we exchanged contacts with local students, in case they were interested in pursuing research into hybrid propulsion, or if doing an internship with us might be of interest to them.

The conference also featured a series of outstanding presentations on the latest advances in the aerospace industry. One of the most interesting presenters was Mr Francisco Javier Urrios Gómez, from the University of Seville in Spain. He presented a very topical and interesting subject: solar sails. He demonstrated his research into optimizing interplanetary travel to minimize transfer times. The technology is very interesting because it uses propulsion energy from solar radiation, just as a sailboat uses the wind. As the thrust is continuous but weaker, unlike the chemical propellants normally used, transfer times are comparable to today’s. The advantage is that propulsion does not require thrusters, reducing costs and maximizing payload. What’s more, the technology is considered to be more sustainable, as it does not require thrusters to be transported into orbit or manufactured. He also talked about optimizing the solar sail for interplanetary missions to Mars, the near future of human exploration. I was happy to know that, like me, there are other engineers focusing their research on the sustainability of space activities.

In addition to the presentations, I had the opportunity to meet a number of aerospace industry professionals and other young workers like myself, who have started working for major companies and consortia such as Thales Alenia Space, Airbus and Telespazio. I was surprised to meet other professionals who hold the position of systems engineer, in other contexts. It was interesting to discuss with them the changes underway in systems engineering, as this discipline is still considered to be young and developing. In particular, I was able to discuss the integration of MBSE modeling software with concurrent engineering software, with the aim of speeding up the preliminary design phase and simplifying major system trade-offs. I think it helped me in my work once I returned to the company the following week. I also exchanged business cards and discussed my professional experiences with recruiters from major aerospace companies. It was a really valuable experience and I’m sure it will have a positive impact on my work in the future.

What do you take away from this experience?

This was an excellent opportunity to highlight the validity of training at ISAE-SUPAERO. Indeed, some students still in their undergraduate years were very interested in my academic career, which took me from student to intern at ESA and finally to a position as systems engineer. This would not have been possible without the two major disciplines inculcated by ISAE-SUPAERO: environmental issues from a scientific point of view, and the study of systems engineering. Indeed, I’ve never heard of any other European universities that treat both disciplines at a high level.

The conference was also an opportunity to spend a few days in Rome, with the obligation to stop and enjoy the region’s culinary specialties and admire works of art, some of them little-known.

Overall, the conference was an incredibly enriching experience for me. I had the opportunity to meet interesting people, learn about the latest industry trends and grow my professional network. I look forward to attending similar conferences in the future and continuing to expand my knowledge and contacts in the aerospace industry.

Finally, I’ d like to thank the Fondation ISAE-SUPAERO for funding my participation in the conference.

I’d like to thank you again and express my sincere wish to contribute to the Foundation in the future, to finance projects and experiences like the ones I’ve had. But above all, with the conviction that passion for the environment is also shared by the Foundation.

I want to support projects like Enrico’s