Spaceship Two Explosion / Break-up During Flight Test

A very sad day for Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites.

It’s also a sad day for the nascent industry as a whole. After last week’s Orbital Sciences explosion shortly after launch, this second commercial space flight accident will bring closer scrutiny to what is essentially a high risk business.

The test pilots at Virgin (and no doubt XCOR) know these risks and furthermore know the safety risks are higher during flight tests; hence they wear additional safety equipment such as parachutes – when the vehicle is clearly not designed for emergency egress in flight (certainly not for the SFPs).

The IAASS suborbital safety guidance manual was updated last month to include survival systems and survival equipment guidance. We (the international based association with S-3, Airbus and Rocketplane to name a few) believe that a vehicle or personal survival system is essential for suborbital human space flight for emergency situations. Virgin Galactic has lost a pilot sadly and one pilot survived due to wearing a parachute. As the risk is high especially for the early flights the cost benefit analysis would demand such systems. The point of experimental test flights and ground testing is to iron-out reliability and safety issues – even if it means re-design of certain systems; or even changes to the vehicle itself.

Additionally the IAASS Suborbital Safety Guidance Manual has a section on propulsion safety written by our own expert used to designing and handling N2O.
Previously COMSTAC gave our guidance manual the cold shoulder; however at last month’s conference it was pleasing that the FAA-AST were willing to review the guidance and interested in our views. I have also reviewed the latest FAA-AST recommended practices and they have improved on the initial draft and now include recommendations on emergency survival systems.

So going forward let us hope that industry takes heed of both American Authority and International based guidance. As the Spaceship Two explosion / breakup shows, Spaceflight is a very risky business where safety should be embedded from the beginning – meaning formal safety management and systems safety engineering.

NASA supply rocket explodes in Virginia

Earlier today, an Orbital Sciences Antares spacecraft exploded 7 seconds after lift-off in Virginia, USA. It was a NASA mission to resupply the ISS and hence was thankfully unmanned.

There are clear lessons to be drawn here for the spaceflight industry as a whole, including the “new kids on the block” forging a commercial space tourism market; spaceflight, whether sub-orbital or orbital, is risky.  In this case, as the flight was unmanned, the attention on the incident has shifted rather interestingly onto the financial and logistical implications of the crash.

The ISS has sufficient supplies to last many more months, and other supply missions can be scheduled, but the engine powering the rocket had also recently failed during a ground test at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The overarching concern here is that most spacecraft are constructed from components from all over the globe; the integration and testing of these components needs to be a safety-driven, safety-assured and well documented process so as to avoid such incidents occurring again.

More information:

Poster for Suborbital Guidlines presented at the IAASS

As presented to the 7th IAASS conference, here is the poster announcing the release of updated guidelines for the safe regulation, design and operation of suborbital vehicles.


Listed on the poster are the members of the technical committee, and a brief outline of the guidelines themselves.


7th Space Safety Conference News

The 7th IAASS Conference “Space Safety is No Accident” was held on 20-22nd October 2014 in Friedrichshafen, Germany. The conference is held every 18 months in relevant alternating locations between the US/Canada and Europe/Rest of World.

Key note speakers were from NASA, ESA, JAXA, FAA-AST, Boeing and DLR to name a few. The Jerome Lederer award was presented at the Conference Dinner to Space-X for their successful endeavours in the emerging commercial spaceflight arena. The Dinner was held in the Dornier Museum amidst heritage aircraft. In terms of the conference venue, for five decades the site of Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance has been the lynchpin for the development and construction of satellites, probes and instruments for scientific research in space, Earth observation and meteorology and in particular Airbus Defence and Space are based there.

Andy was elected as the Chair of the new Commercial Human Spaceflight Safety (CHSS) Technical Committee; this covers both orbital and suborbital aspects (and indeed subsumes the Suborbital Safety TC and its 20 members). The Suborbital Safety Guidance Manual will continue to be updated with new and rationalized guidance for the nascent industry and this will be as a ‘special project’ of the CHSS TC. Andy will look to experts within the orbital domain to join the TC to provide guidance where appropriate.

Andy was on the commercial spaceflight panel along with distinguished panellists: Jean-Bruno Marciacq (EASA), Professor Paul Dempsey (McGill University), Professor Tommaso Sgobba (IAASS Executive Director), Katherine Leuders (NASA) and Mike Kelly (FAA-AST) – along with Dr Paul Wilde (FAA-AST) as the panel moderator. The panelists each provided their perspective on the emerging commercial spaceflight industry and then Paul provided questions for the panelists that provided extremely useful dialogue and exchange of information. The audience engaged with their own questions and points to our answers and this too was welcome (seeing as we had Space-X and other experts in the audience).


Additionally Andy and a few of the suborbital safety TC (Alberto Del Bianco [AltecSpacce], Davide Apostolo [S-3] and Mike Klicker [techcos GmbH] are pictured alongside the Guidance Manual poster.


SpaceX unveils the Dragon V2

SpaceX has unveiled their latest capsule, the Dragon V2. With Elon Musk’s claim that the capsule can land “can land anywhere on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter”, the Dragon V2 certainly sets the bar high in terms of technical ambition, but also for design and aesthetics. Will this configuration translate well to a production-ready vehicle? We’ll be keeping tabs on SpaceX, but in the meantime, for more fascinating pics and commentary on the Dragon V2, head on over to the link below:

IAASS Suborbital Safety Guidance Manual – Issue 1 out now

Part of the work being done by the IAASS Suborbital Safety Committee (chaired by Saturn SMS MD Andy Quinn) involves collaboration on a Safety Guidance Manual for the industry.

Issue 1 of the manual is available now, and represents a bold first step in codifying and formalising best practices for the suborbital spaceflight industry.

You can download the manual directly here: IAASS Suborbital Safety Guidelines Manual_Issue 1_May2014

SpaceShipTwo completes second powered flight

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo has completed its second powered flight, nearly three years since the first test (glide) flight. With no clear date yet for commercial operations, the milestone will no doubt come as exciting news for the hundreds of people signed up to fly with the company.



A reality check for private enterprise in space?

Leading astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t think private enterprise has the mettle to shape the future of space space exploration.

“It’s not possible. Space is dangerous. It’s expensive. There are unquantified risks,” Neil deGrasse Tyson tells us. “Combine all of those under one umbrella; you cannot establish a free market capitalization of that enterprise.”