Throughout its 60-year history, human spaceflight has been dominated by government-run programs. Despite many lessons learned by NASA and improvements to the reliability of space missions, human spaceflight remains a risky endeavor. As the space community transitions from government-led development and operations to commercial services, the knowledge of those risks needs to be transferred while allowing for progress and innovation. Safe, routine human spaceflight can be achieved through continued innovation and sharing best practices across the community.
The Aerospace Corporation has a role in this knowledge transfer based on its long history of supporting human spaceflight, from the early days of “human-rating” the Titan missile in the Gemini Program to supporting the Safety and Mission Assurance team of the recent successful SpaceX Crew Dragon missions. Aerospace keeps pace with commercial innovation, leveraging our capabilities to ensure the mission success of national security, civil, and commercial space while factoring in unique human passenger and crew requirements. These capabilities are available through the Space Safety Institute.
Safety Standards and Best Practices
NASA has established the standards and best practices for human spaceflight over previous decades. The Space Safety Institute brings Aerospace’s in-depth understanding of these standards to assist in evaluating any tailoring to allow for vehicle customization and operational efficiencies. The key to enabling this is to understand the fundamental reasons the standards were created and to balance the risks inherent in any deviations. This allows for adhering to the intent of the standards while evolving past the specifics.
Safe human spaceflight will be made possible through open sharing of safety best practices and lessons learned from incidents, following the lead of the aviation industry. In both environments, safety starts with system design practices, is improved with robust production and testing processes, and is realized through proper training and operations. In aviation, this is true for all classes of aircraft: commercial, private, military, and even experimental.
Aerospace has supported human spaceflight safety assessments for many decades and offers this capability through the Space Safety Institute. Examples of such independent assessments include:
- International Space Station (ISS) vehicle performance metrics
- Independent assessment of the battery reconfiguration process of the ISS
- Assessment of Russian NiCd batteries on the ISS
- Evaluation of the feasibility of ISS fiber-optic cable replacement with industry-standard fiber-optic cable
- Assessment of the performance of the ISS commanding processes for payloads
- Assessment of Ku-band space-to-ground transmitter-receiver-controller
- Assessment of the joint Shuttle-ISS operational flight rules
- Assessment of ISS shroud effects on extravehicular activity (EVA) communication
- Assessment of assembly EVA and resources required for EVA of the ISS
- Assessment of ISS assembly EVA hours and ISS assembly training
- Assessment of the ISS Ku-band and S-band capabilities
Research and Development
Aerospace regularly performs background research on safety of spaceflight participants (SFPs) aboard suborbital reusable launch vehicles. This work, partially sponsored by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, is done in recognition of the anticipated advent of the U.S. government sponsoring human-tended research on commercial suborbital flights. This necessitates the establishment of safety review procedures for federal agencies to allow government-sponsored SFPs aboard these vehicles. Our research includes safety practices for NASA personnel aboard aircraft, orbital rockets, and platforms and medical recommendations for operationally critical flight crewmembers. Research also includes comparisons with other challenging environments, like deep-sea submersibles.
Infrastructure, Tools, and Data
The Space Safety Institute leverages Aerospace infrastructure, including expertise, tools, and data supporting human spaceflight safety. For example, Aerospace developed a prototype demand model for NASA Suborbital Safety. This demand model parametrically predicted the number of flight tests required for suborbital reusable launch vehicles when only conceptual vehicle descriptions are available. Model inputs used to predict flight tests include the number of crew and passengers, vehicle speed, flight profile, expendable or reusable, and build quantity. It also predicted catastrophic failure based on test program, vehicle speed, flight profile, number of vehicle designs, and other parameters.
Aerospace technical capabilities cover all aspects of human spaceflight. Contact us for specifics and more detail on:
- Aeroassist entry descent and landing
- Analogs and ground testing
- Artificial gravity
- Design, analysis, and decision modeling
- EVA and surface mobility
- Human health
- In situ resource utilization
- Life support
- Lunar architectures
- Mars architectures
- Mars systems
- Near-Earth asteroids
- Planetary protection
- Power systems – nuclear, solar, batteries
- Propellant depots and cryogenic fluid management
- Propulsion – nuclear electric
- Propulsion – nuclear thermal
- Propulsion – solar electric
- Transportation concepts
Policy and Strategy
Crew safety is the paramount requirement on all human spaceflight missions. The U.S., Russia, and China all have government-sponsored human space exploration programs, each with their own safety requirements and environment. NASA in particular has rigid standards that must be met for a vehicle to be human qualified. Private enterprise is quickly becoming a provider of services for taking humans into space, not only to low Earth orbit, but also potentially beyond. Private companies have initiated regular suborbital flights for advanced technology demonstration, scientific research, and space tourism. For suborbital flights, the FAA is currently the regulatory and licensing entity; however, the NASA Commercial Crew Program is providing a technical safety assessment of these vehicles and their operation, with Aerospace's support
Standards and regulations differ across the various crewed spaceflight providers, from NASA-developed to commercial crew to suborbital flight vehicles. As this sector of the space enterprise continues to grow, it is imperative that basic standards for crew safety are well understood and updated to adapt to changing flight opportunities, considering the experience gained as these flights become more routine. The Space Safety Institute applies the expertise of Aerospace’s human exploration professionals to ensure a common understanding of human spaceflight safety standards as they are and as they evolve, providing independent assessments and recommendations as appropriate.
- R. W. Seibold, R. Young, and N. M. Demidovich, “Safety of Spaceflight Participants Aboard Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicles – Background Research,” 10th Conference, International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS), El Segundo, CA, May 15–17, 2019.
- Paper: Human Spaceflight Safety: Regulatory Issues and Mitigating Concepts (Nov 2020)