Tag: FAA

Book Review: Safe is Not An Option

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safe_not_optionSafe is Not an Option: Overcoming the Futile Obsession with Getting Everyone Back Alive that is Killing Our Expansion into Space
By Rand Simberg
Interglobal Media LLC
2013

On May 26, 1865, Captain J. C. Mason pushed off from a dock in Vicksburg, Miss., and steered the steam-powered paddle wheeler SS Sultana north along the rain-swollen Mississippi River. The Sultana’s decks groaned from the weight of more than 2,500 passengers and crew members.

At 2 a.m. the following morning, the ship’s boilers exploded north of Memphis. As many as 1,800 people died in the explosion and fire or drowned in the fast flowing river. The majority of the dead were Union soldiers recently released from a pair of hellish Confederate prison camps. Their ticket home had become a death warrant.

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FAA Proposes Changes to Risk Assessment for Commercial Launches, Reentries

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faa_logoThe FAA has proposed changing the way it calculates collective risk limits for commercial launches and reentries. A brief summary is reproduced below. For more information, visit the entry in the Federal Register.

Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking

Summary

The FAA proposes to amend the collective risk limits for commercial launches and reentries. Under this proposal, the FAA would separate its expected-number-of-casualties (E c) limits for launches and reentries. For commercial launches, the FAA proposes to aggregate the E c posed by the following hazards: Impacting inert and explosive debris, toxic release, and far field blast overpressure. The FAA proposes to limit the aggregate E c for these three hazards to 1 × 10 4. For commercial reentries, the FAA proposes to aggregate the E c posed by debris and toxic release, and set that E c under an aggregate limit of 1 × 10 4. Under the FAA’s proposal, the aggregate E c limit for both launch and reentry would be expressed using only one significant digit.

The FAA also proposes to clarify the regulatory requirements concerning hazard areas for ships and aircraft. The proposed rule would require a launch operator to establish a hazard area where the probability of impact does not exceed: 0.000001 (1 × 10 6) for an aircraft; and 0.00001 (1 × 10 5) for a water-borne-vessel.

The Risks of Airplane and Spacecraft Travel — By the Numbers

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Earth_from_space_graphic
In the “UK Government Review of Commercial Spaceplane Certification and Operations Technical Report,” there is a fascinating section outlining the risks of aviation and spaceflight. It is worth quoting at length because it shows the risks people take in different types of flights, and the nearly complete lack of safety data involving the emerging field of space tourism.

The key excerpts are below. I’ve added emphasis to spotlight the key statistics.

Over the past hundred years, commercial aviation has evolved to the extent that, for public transport, operations involving ICAO-certified aircraft achieve a catastrophic failure rate better than 1×10-7. This means that catastrophic failure takes place less than once in every 10 million hours of flight.

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A Closer Look at the UK’s Commercial Space Review

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Earth_from_space_graphic
Following the release of the document, “UK Government Review of Commercial Spaceplane Certification and Operations: Summary and Conclusions,” almost all media attention focused on one element of the report: the 8 candidate sites for the nation’s first spaceport.

This laser focus is easy to understand. The fierce, tooth-and-nail competition to land some big government project will be fun to watch. And spaceports are super cool. Well, they are when space planes are actually flying to space. When like a decade goes by with people promising imminent spaceflights without a single one taking place, spaceports become a lot less cool.  (I’m looking at you…everybody in Mojave!)

But, I digress. I went through the 80-page document and the 321-page technical report its based on so you don’t have to. Why would I do this? Because you guys are the best! You’re very welcome.

Key excerpts follow with commentary as appropriate. Read away!

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Virgin Galactic Launch License on Hold While Legislative Fix is Sought

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SpaceShipTwo on final approach during a glide flight on Jan. 17, 2014. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

SpaceShipTwo on final approach during a glide flight on Jan. 17, 2014. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s application for a launch license for SpaceShipTwo has been on hold since January while legislators in Washington attempt to fix a quirk in the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations governing licenses and experimental permits, the company said.

The specific issue involves a provision in the law that makes an experimental permit invalid once a launch license is issued for a vehicle, according to Will Pomerantz, Virgin Galactic’s vice president for special projects. Flight testing of SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship is continuing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

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FAA Approves SpaceX Launch Complex in Texas

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Artist's conception of the proposed SpaceX commercial launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.

Artist’s conception of the proposed SpaceX commercial launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved SpaceX’s plan to build a spaceport south of Brownsville, Texas, to launch Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and suborbital rockets.

In its record of decision, the FAA said that while the environmentally preferable alternative would be to reject the application and having nothing constructed in the beachfront area, the option is not in keeping with the agency’s purpose.

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Endangered Chicken Impacting Midland Spaceport License Application

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Lesser prairie chicken

Lesser prairie chicken

An update on Midland International Airport’s application for a spaceport license, which is necessary for XCOR to move its R&D facility to the West Texas facility:

It appears the mating rituals of the lesser prairie chicken are imposing on Midland International Airport’s pursuit of a spaceport license.

After the chicken was federally listed in March, the airport submitted an addendum to its environmental assessment explaining why the spaceport wouldn’t be a threat to the now “threatened” species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, worried about sonic booms negatively impacting the small chicken’s early-morning spring mating habits, has yet to approve the addendum.

But Midland Director of Airports Marv Esterly — who offered to send biologists to Andrews County to study how the first five launches would impact the chickens — fully expects the service to sign off and the Federal Aviation Administration to deliver a finding of “no significant impact.”

“They are really sensitive to what’s out there,” Esterly said during Tuesday’s Spaceport Development Corp. meeting. “We feel the sonic boom is so small — so much less than a thunder clap — that it won’t have an effect.”

The FAA is set to make a decision by Sept. 15.

Read the full story.

Space Frontier Foundation Announces NewSpace Award Winners

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sff_logoSILICON VALLEY, Calif. (SFF PR) –  Join the Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) to felicitate the recipients of the 2014 NewSpace Awards at the NewSpace 2014 Awards Gala on July 26th at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, San Jose.

This year, the Foundation recognized a multitude of accomplishments over the past 12 months, giving out awards in five categories. Below is a glimpse of this year’s awards and award winners who will be recognized at the conference.

Vision of Reality

This award is for outstanding achievement in the development and operation of a device, system, or entity that forwards the opening of the Space Frontier.

The NASA COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) program was chosen to receive the Vision to Reality Award for pushing and helping to develop the commercial space industry through the achievements of Orbital Sciences and SpaceX.

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SpaceX Receives Final Environmental Approval for Texas Launch Complex

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Artist's conception of the proposed SpaceX commercial launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.

Artist’s conception of the proposed SpaceX commercial launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.

The FAA has published its final environmental impact statement on SpaceX’s planned launch facility south of Brownsville, Texas. The publication clears the way for the company to build the spaceport, from which it will launch Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

“The FAA has submitted the Final EIS to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” the agency said on its website. “EPA will post a notification in the Federal Register announcing the availability of the Final EIS. The FAA will issue a Record of Decision no sooner than 30 days following EPA’s notice in the Federal Register. The FAA Record of Decision will be published in the Federal Register, which concludes the NEPA process.”

The documents can be viewed here.

Suborbital Operators Face Insurance Unknowns

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World_Space_Risk_ForumSo, just how powerless are future millionauts and their heirs in suing companies for injuries and deaths sustained during suborbital joyrides to the final frontier? Nobody is quite sure yet.

Thus far, the FAA has put forth an informed consent regime in which passengers must acknowledge they are undertaking a risky activity. At least six U.S. states have passed informed consent laws that provide space companies with various levels of protection from lawsuits filed over accidents, injuries and deaths during spaceflight operations.

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