The relationship between light-weighting with carbon fiber reinforced polymers and the life cycle environmental impacts of orbital launch rockets
Romaniw, Yuriy Alexander
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A study was undertaken to determine if light-weighting orbital launch vehicles (rockets) improves lifetime environmental impacts of the vehicle. Light-weighting is performed by a material substitution where metal structures in the rocket are replaced with carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRP’s). It is uncertain whether light-weighting the rocket in the same way as traditional vehicles are light-weighted would provide similar environmental benefits. Furthermore, the rocket system is significantly different from traditional vehicles and undergoes an atypical lifecycle, making analysis non-trivial. Seventy rocket configurations were sized using a Parametric Rocket Sizing Model (PRSM) which was developed for this research. Four different propellant options, three staging options, and eighteen different lift capacities were considered. Each of these seventy rockets did not include CFRP’s, thus establishing a baseline. The seventy rockets were then light-weighted with CFRP’s, making a total of seventy pairs of rockets. An environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was performed on each of the rockets to determine lifetime environmental impacts. During the Life Cycle Inventory (LCI), a Carbon Fiber Production Model was developed to determine the environmental burdens of carbon fiber production and to address issues identified with carbon fiber’s embodied burdens. The results of the LCA were compared across all rockets to determine what effects light-weighting had on environmental impact. The final conclusion is that light-weighting reduces lifetime environmental impacts of Liquid Oxygen-Rocket Propellant 1 and Nitrogen Tetroxide-Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine rockets, while it likely benefits Liquid Oxygen-Liquid Hydrogen rockets. Light-weighting increases lifetime environmental impacts of Solid Propellant rockets.