Astronaut Safety VP Bowersox Quits SpaceX

U.S. astronaut Ken BowersoxSpace News is reporting that former astronaut Ken Bowersox quit as SpaceX’s vice president of astronaut safety and mission assurance. No reason has been given for the decision.

Bowersox joined SpaceX in June 2009 after a successful career at NASA. The space agency selected him as an astronaut in 1987. He flew the space shuttle five times as a mission specialist, pilot and commander. Bowersox served as Expedition 6 mission commander for the International Space Station and has logged 211 days in space.

“Ken Bowersox is a critical asset to the SpaceX team, as we prepare for crewed missions aboard our Dragon spacecraft,” said Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of SpaceX, said at the time Bowersox was hired. “His experience in the U.S. astronaut corps, and aboard the International Space Station, will be invaluable in shaping the future of commercial manned spaceflight.”

Space News quotes SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham as saying that Bowersox’s responsibility had been split among several people and that Hans Koenigsmann has been named as the company’s vice president of mission assurance. Koenigsmann is still listed as Launch Chief Engineer on SpaceX’s website, which includes the following biography:

Dr. Koenigsmann is Launch Chief Engineer for all of SpaceX. His experience includes two suborbital launches with newly developed vehicles, a satellite development and launch and several attitude control systems; his specialties are attitude control (in particular magnetic attitude control), orbit and attitude dynamics, systems engineering and guidance and control systems.

Dr. Koenigsmann has served as head of the Space Technology Division of Germany’s Center for Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) at the University of Bremen. In that role, he was responsible for the development and operation of the satellite BREMSAT.

Dr. Koenigsmann then worked for Microcosm as a Chief Scientist and a Flight Systems Manager for their Scorpius sub-orbital launch vehicles, where he led a team that developed the vehicle’s avionics, guidance and control systems, as well as supported the thrust vector control development. For their Space System Division, he developed satellite attitude control systems, using a variety of control concepts, including wheels and magnetic torquers, for which he received a US patent.

Dr. Koenigsmann has a Ph.D. in Aerospace and Production Technology from the University of Bremen and an M.S. Aerospace Engineering from the Technical University of Berlin.

This is sort of troubling. SpaceX has lost an experienced astronaut with insights into safety issues specific to human spaceflight. And his replacement has expertise in suborbital launch vehicles and the development of BREMSAT, a 63-kg. micro-satellite. It’s difficult to see that as a permanent solution.