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NASA Team Says Commercial Crew Vehicles Don’t Meet NASA Safety Standards for Human Flights

Jan. 12, 2018 (EIRNS)—NASA’s independent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released its annual report yesterday, warning that it does not believe that the commercial companies that are building spacecraft to take crews to the International Space Station, will meet NASA’s safety standards.

The panel evaluated the criteria that NASA sets for the acceptable odds of a Loss of Crew (LOC) as compared to the technologies that the commercial companies are developing, and says that NASA’s requirement of a 1-in-270 risk of LOC will not be achieved by either SpaceX or Boeing for their crew vehicles. The panel has in the past identified specific design characteristics they believe increase the risk, and urged NASA not to lower the standards.

The panel members express concern about the Continuing Resolution, which keeps NASA’s budget flat, as the agency faces moving into testing of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew vehicle. It does commend NASA for stretching out the schedule, rather than succumb to schedule pressure and "erode testing content." (This is one way the safety of the Shuttle was degraded, by reducing testing.)

The panel identifies other safety threats, and raises concerns about the danger to crew from micrometeoroids and collisions with orbital debris, which it says is a special concern for commercial crew vehicles. It does not think the commercial vehicles will meet NASA requirements to withstand such orbital strikes.

The first manned flight of a Boeing Starliner is slated for next November, with one NASA astronaut and one Boeing employee. The first manned SpaceX Dragon flight is penciled in for the following month, with two NASA astronauts.

Next week, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the commercial crew program, at which a member of the safety panel will testify.