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NASA Officials Raise Safety Concerns About Emerging Private Spacecrafts

Posted by EHS Insight Staff on January 15, 2018 at 10:18 AM

Advancements for private spacecraft are on the rise. Two separate companies, Boeing and SpaceX, are currently in the development stages of private spacecraft production.

But NASA officials have raised some red flags about persistent dangers of using commercial spacecraft. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s safety panel have listed several concerns.

The two main potential threats that they have identified include the use of unconventional rocket fuel systems, and the anticipated bombardment of tiny meteor fragments and other debris while in orbit.

Under the commercial spacecraft program, NASA would rely on capsules to transport both passengers and cargo to and from low-Earth orbit locations. This high-profile program is known as commercial crew transportation.

SpaceX has already made history with their version of the commercial spacecraft. The Dragon, a free-flying spacecraft, delivered cargo to the International Space Station back in 2012. The delivery and return were both safe and successful. Prior to this run, only government operations had accomplished such a feat.

Now, SpaceX looks to use the Dragon for transportation of human passengers. The launch could take place as early as December of 2018.

Boeing is also on the horizon for making historical advancements. The CST-100 Starliner is a next-generation space capsule with an innovative, weldless structure. It will accommodate up to four passengers, along with cargo needed for time-critical scientific research.

While these two companies have made tremendous progress in recent years, the implementation phases have continued to be pushed back. And unresolved hazards continue to threaten further delays.

NASA has stipulated a statistical limit of no more than one possible fatal accident per 270 flights. SpaceX and Boeing are developing separate fleets but neither is likely to meet this longstanding safety standard any time soon. NASA managers will need to determine if the anticipated statistical risk is acceptable.

Of course, before either company is given the go-ahead for launch, their capsules will need to partake in a series of safety checks.

Every aspect of the launch will be tested. This includes a review of the individual spacecraft, launch pads, spacesuits, engines, recovery systems, abort protocols, and more.

A spokesman from SpaceX told the Wall Street Journal that they are “revising a fuel-system component and methodically demonstrating the safety of its overall fueling process.”

The company insists that the Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules are “one of the safest and most advanced human spaceflight systems ever built–and we are set to meet the additional milestones needed to launch our demonstration missions this year.”

After years of planning, testing, and re-engineering, SpaceX and Boeing are both eager to launch their capsules into space.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program was developed with the goal of achieving safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. Once transportation capabilities meet NASA’s requirements, the agency will fly missions to meet its space station crew rotation and emergency return obligations.

To learn more about the program, download the CCP NASA Facts Guide.

Topics: In the News, Technology, Safety Management

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