Andy Quinn Spaceflight Safety Presentation at ICAO

Andy Quinn, Managing Director of spaceflight safety consultancy Saturn SMS recently attended the thoroughly enjoyable and productive ICAO / UNOOSA AeroSPACE Symposium held in Montreal on 18-20 March.

The symposium brought together 350 delegates from 37 nations, from aviation and space communities aiming to:

… explore existing regulations and practices as well as safety management and systems engineering methods with regard to civil aviation, suborbital flights and developments in space transportation.
– ICAO website

Andy Quinn gave a well received presentation titled “Evolutionary Commercial Spaceflight: Doing it Safely”. Speaking after the close of the symposium, Andy reflected on the challenges ahead:

The symposium provided great debate and highlighted the disparate ideas on frameworks and vehicle levels of safety and design approaches … this will be no easy journey but it is a necessary journey and this symposium is the first step. ICAO held a Space Learning Group meeting and these will continue, and I’m looking forward to the 2nd ICAO/UNOOSA symposium which will be held be in the UAE next year.

Andy’s presentation is available for download:

ICAO_UNOOSA AeroSPACE Symposium Presentation (Andy Quinn)

This presentation, and those from the rest of the event are also available from the symposium’s website:

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:

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

New TALIS header images


You may notice we’ve added some new images to the header – these have been very kindly supplied to us by one of the companies we work with – TALIS, and are artistic depictions of the craft they are working towards in one of their current projects: “Black Sky”.