SpaceX Creates Safety Panel As It Readies for April 30 Test Flight

SpaceX Creates Safety Panel As It Readies for April 30 Test Flight

As SpaceX prepares for the April 30 test flight of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft for the “commercial cargo” phase of its business plan, yesterday it announced creation of a five-person safety panel to provide advice on what it hopes will be the next phase — “commercial crew.”

If all goes according to plan on the April 30 flight, Dragon will berth with the International Space Station (ISS) to demonstrate its ability to deliver cargo to the ISS.   Dragon will not carry any crew on this flight, which is part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.   NASA initiated the COTS program to facilitate the emergence of a commercial capability for companies to build and launch space transportation systems to provide ISS-related services to NASA on a commercial basis.

With the termination of the space shuttle program last year, NASA itself has no capability to take cargo or crew to the ISS.   It relies on Russia to transport astronauts, and on Russia, Europe and Japan to take cargo.

NASA is building a new rocket and spacecraft to take people beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), where ISS is located, but the plan is to rely on the commercial sector to provide both cargo and crew services to ISS for the future.   SpaceX hopes to be one of the companies selected by NASA to provide “commercial crew” services to ISS in the future using Falcon 9 and Dragon, as well as launching other paying customers (“space tourists”) to LEO.

The safety panel it named yesterday “will provide objective assessments of the safety of the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to help SpaceX maintain the highest level of safety,” according to the SpaceX press release.  

The five SpaceX safety panel members named yesterday are:

  • Leroy Chiao, former NASA astronaut
  • Scott Hubbard, former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center and member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board that investigated the 2003 space shuttle Columbia tragedy; currently Stanford University professor of aeronautics and astronautics
  • Richard Jennings, former chief of medicine at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and currently a professor at the Aerospace Medicine Center at the University of Texas Medical Branch
  • Mark Kelly, former NASA astronaut
  • Ed Lu, former NASA astronaut

SpaceX said they will have their first meeting in the fall of 2012 and work “well after SpaceX begins flying people into space.”

NASA’s commercial crew program is controversial for many reasons, one of which is concern that commercial companies will be less concerned about safety than the government.


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