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A photograph of the Moon taken from the International Space Station. The photograph was taken by European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and posted as today's NASA Image of the Day. (Image source: NASA)

SAE International co-publishes first commercial space travel, exploration safety standard

IAASS-SSI-1700 establishes safety requirements for commercial human-rated space systems.
With commercial space exploration an imminent reality, the need for safety certification is crucial.

No such set of standards had existed; but that has now changed. SAE International, headquartered in Warrendale, Pa., co-published a new standard developed by the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS) Space Safety Institute (SSI).

The IAASS-SSI-1700 Commercial Human-Rated System standard establishes requirements developed by the IAASS SSI for the safety certification of commercial human-rated systems (CHS) for space system designers, engineers, and program managers. In short, the requirements are designed to protect the crew, passengers, spacecraft, relevant launch vehicles or carriers, and any other interfacing system from spaceflight hazards.

The new standard covers any spacecraft developed and operated to perform suborbital, orbital, or interplanetary missions – including transport vehicles such as capsules or winged bodies, orbital stations, unmanned cargo transport vehicles intended to dock with crewed stations, bases, descent and ascent vehicles, and integrated systems (like a capsule on a launch vehicle).

Although dangers related to public safety during launch and re-entry phases fall outside the scope of IAASS-SSI-1700, the standard sets comprehensive standards that range from broad concerns like general probabilistic safety analysis value limits for orbital and sub-orbital mission risk and micrometeoroid and orbital debris risk to technical safety issues like fault tolerance, single point failures, environmental compatibility, and propellant tank isolation valves. Critical aspects such as hazard detection and system safing are covered, as well as fire protection, contingencies, and survival capabilities.

“For more than 10 years, the commercial spaceflight industry has been pursuing without success initiatives to develop a safety standard, by following the old model of prescriptive standards which is the least suitable method for covering a variety of highly innovative systems because they tend to constrain the designers' freedom,” says Tommaso Sgobba, executive director of IAASS.

“Prescriptive standards are currently being questioned even by those industries which have used them for decades – like aviation – as barriers to innovation. Furthermore, in their attempt to develop a space safety standard, the commercial spaceflight industry has completely ignored the experience gained in 50 years of government space programs. Instead, the IAASS standard is performance oriented and heritage based. It represents the state-of-art in the field,” continues Sgobba.

“SAE International, leveraging over 100 years in supporting the aviation and space industry, is proud to partner with IAASS in publishing this standard: helping the commercial spaceflight industry and other stakeholders to develop global safety standards to make travel to the next frontier a reality,” says David Alexander, director of aerospace standards at SAE International.

IAASS brought a wealth of combined experience together when selecting members for its standards development committee. Many engineers from government space agencies weighed in on best practices from past and present space programs to develop IAASS-SSI-1700.

IAASS was established April 16, 2004 in the Netherlands, as a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering international cooperation and scientific advancement in the field of space systems safety. IAASS exists to help shape and advance an international culture of space safety – technical, organizational, and socio-political – to make space missions, vehicles, stations, extraterrestrial habitats, equipment, and payloads safer.

Almost a century ago, British pilot Captain A. G. Lamplugh said, “Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect.” That same consideration applies – exponentially – to the designing spacecraft and space systems.

Though the undeniably rigorous challenges of space travel remain, standardizing commercial space safety establishes a pragmatic foundation on which to build a space industry.

The standard and its impact will be discussed during SAE International’s first Space Summit event “The Case for the Space Safety Institute” October 4-5, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Contact Logen Johnson, aerospace standards engineer at SAE International for more information.



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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at
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