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Introduction

As part of its efforts to modernize and streamline space launch operations, the Air Force chartered the National Research Council (NRC) to review safety guidelines and procedures for government and commercial space launches at the national ranges. The need for an independent assessment by the NRC was identified in the Range Integrated Product Team (IPT) Report (USAF, 1998), which was prompted by the Commercial Space Industry Leaders’ Conference that took place in December 1997. At that conference, the following opportunities for improving U.S. space launch capabilities were defined:

  • streamlining processes to reduce operational costs and personnel requirements while preserving public safety

  • reexamining policies for customer use of limited launch range resources

  • improving support for commercial users

  • learning from the experience of foreign launch range operations

The Range IPT Report was produced by a task force of representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and commercial space industry. After examining issues related to safety, bureau-cracy, and ground system reliability and modernization, the task force decided that launch range safety deserved a second look.

OBJECTIVES

The Air Force would like launch range operations to be more efficient and more responsive to commercial and other external users without affecting testing and military launch capabilities. Meeting this goal will require reevaluating the 50-year legacy of the ranges in light of new technologies, lessons learned, and the growing demand for commercial launch services. In support of this effort, the NRC appointed the Committee on Space Launch Range Safety to examine the technologies and procedures used to provide for public safety during space launch operations and to recommend ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency without compromising public safety. The following tasks were assigned to the committee:

  1. Conduct a top-level, independent review of the Air Force’s safety guidelines and procedures for government and commercial space launches as published in Eastern and Western Range Safety Requirements (EWR 127-1, 1997) to determine if there are alternative approaches to the protection of the general public that are both more efficient and less expensive.

  2. Conduct an independent assessment of the current and planned range safety and flight termination systems and procedures for government and commercial space launches to estimate the technical feasibility and cost effectiveness of a GPS-based, autonomous flight termination system.

  3. Conduct an independent examination of the Air Force’s safety guidelines and procedures associated with incursions of aircraft and ships into restricted airspace and waters to determine if holds and delays of government and commercial space launches can be reduced while maintaining an acceptable level of safety.

STUDY PROCESSES AND APPROACH

To execute these tasks, the NRC assembled a panel of 12 experts in launch range safety; space launch operations; launch vehicle systems engineering; launch vehicle guidance, navigation, and control systems; global positioning system (GPS) technology; telemetry, tracking, and command systems technology; risk assessment; and public safety. Some committee members had decades of experience as launch range users or operators, and others had little or no prior experience with space launch systems or operations.

The study benefited from an exceptional amount of public interest and input; more than 100 individuals from interested organizations and members of the general public attended public committee meetings (see Appendix C). The



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Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety 1 Introduction As part of its efforts to modernize and streamline space launch operations, the Air Force chartered the National Research Council (NRC) to review safety guidelines and procedures for government and commercial space launches at the national ranges. The need for an independent assessment by the NRC was identified in the Range Integrated Product Team (IPT) Report (USAF, 1998), which was prompted by the Commercial Space Industry Leaders’ Conference that took place in December 1997. At that conference, the following opportunities for improving U.S. space launch capabilities were defined: streamlining processes to reduce operational costs and personnel requirements while preserving public safety reexamining policies for customer use of limited launch range resources improving support for commercial users learning from the experience of foreign launch range operations The Range IPT Report was produced by a task force of representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and commercial space industry. After examining issues related to safety, bureau-cracy, and ground system reliability and modernization, the task force decided that launch range safety deserved a second look. OBJECTIVES The Air Force would like launch range operations to be more efficient and more responsive to commercial and other external users without affecting testing and military launch capabilities. Meeting this goal will require reevaluating the 50-year legacy of the ranges in light of new technologies, lessons learned, and the growing demand for commercial launch services. In support of this effort, the NRC appointed the Committee on Space Launch Range Safety to examine the technologies and procedures used to provide for public safety during space launch operations and to recommend ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency without compromising public safety. The following tasks were assigned to the committee: Conduct a top-level, independent review of the Air Force’s safety guidelines and procedures for government and commercial space launches as published in Eastern and Western Range Safety Requirements (EWR 127-1, 1997) to determine if there are alternative approaches to the protection of the general public that are both more efficient and less expensive. Conduct an independent assessment of the current and planned range safety and flight termination systems and procedures for government and commercial space launches to estimate the technical feasibility and cost effectiveness of a GPS-based, autonomous flight termination system. Conduct an independent examination of the Air Force’s safety guidelines and procedures associated with incursions of aircraft and ships into restricted airspace and waters to determine if holds and delays of government and commercial space launches can be reduced while maintaining an acceptable level of safety. STUDY PROCESSES AND APPROACH To execute these tasks, the NRC assembled a panel of 12 experts in launch range safety; space launch operations; launch vehicle systems engineering; launch vehicle guidance, navigation, and control systems; global positioning system (GPS) technology; telemetry, tracking, and command systems technology; risk assessment; and public safety. Some committee members had decades of experience as launch range users or operators, and others had little or no prior experience with space launch systems or operations. The study benefited from an exceptional amount of public interest and input; more than 100 individuals from interested organizations and members of the general public attended public committee meetings (see Appendix C). The

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Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety committee welcomed these expressions of interest and invited comments from all meeting participants on the issues under investigation. The committee met four times—in Colorado Springs; Cocoa Beach, Florida; Santa Maria, California (near Vandenberg Air Force Base); and Washington, D.C. The committee received input from range safety personnel on both coasts, commercial space launch providers, range contractors, legal counsel, Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the FAA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Navy Trident Missile Program, and others. In addition, committee members met singly and in small groups with consultants, commercial launch providers, oil rig operators affected by launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, representatives of Arianespace, range contractors, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The committee evaluated current range safety systems and alternative approaches with upgraded radars and GPS tracking systems. The committee did not investigate using other types of advanced technologies that may become available in the future. This report focuses on just one aspect of U.S. space launch capabilities: range safety. The committee’s task is not exclusive to this committee. At least 15 recently completed or ongoing studies are also examining national space launch activities (see Appendix D). The Air Force has the difficult task of integrating the analyses, findings, and recommendations of these studies, as well as the perspectives of others interested in the future of the ER and WR. ORGANIZATION OF THIS REPORT Through a sometimes lively process of discussion and debate, the committee forged a consensus on each of the findings and recommendations included in this report. Chapter 2 provides background information for readers who are not familiar with launch range operations and safety issues. In response to task 1, Chapter 3 describes risk management approaches to safety. Key elements of this approach include transforming EWR 127-1 into a performance-based requirements document; consolidating within Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) acquisition-like functions related to range safety, many of which are now being performed by the AFSPC range safety offices at the Eastern Range (ER) and Western Range (WR); and managing risk to meet accepted risk standards rather than to avoid risk whenever possible. Chapter 3 also provides a safety-based rationale for eliminating the expense of downrange assets by moving the Africa gates uprange and advocates the adoption of GPS receiver systems for vehicle tracking. Task 2 is addressed in Chapter 4, which examines the methodology and criteria for flight termination and flight safety systems. Task 3 is covered in Chapter 5, which suggests ways to reduce the impact of intruders on the ranges. A list of all findings and recommendations appears in Appendix A. Short biographies of committee members are included in Appendix B. Meeting participants are listed in Appendix C. Additional supporting material on related studies and safety models appears in Appendices D and E, respectively. REFERENCES EWR 127-1 (Eastern and Western Range Safety Requirements). 1997. Available on line at: http://www.pafb.af.mil/45sw/rangesafety/ewr97.htm January 20, 2000. USAF (U.S. Air Force). 1998. Range Integrated Product Team Report. Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.: Air Force Space Command. Available on line at: http://www4.nas.edu/cets/asebhome.nsf/web/aseb_related_links?OpenDocument March 10, 2000.