Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety (2000)

Chapter: Appendix A: Findings and Recommendations

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Suggested Citation: "Appendix A: Findings and Recommendations." National Research Council. Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.

Appendix A
Findings and Recommendations


Finding 2-1. Range safety personnel and procedures have well protected people and property. In the history of the U.S. space program, no members of the general public or launch site workers have been killed or seriously injured during a launch accident.

Risk Management Approaches to Safety

Primary Recommendation on EWR 127-1. AFSPC should simplify EWR 127-1 so that all requirements are performance based and consistent with both established risk standards for space launch (e.g., Ec of 30 × 10−6) and objective industry standards. The process of revising EWR 127-1 should include the following steps:

  • Eliminate requirements that cannot be validated.

  • Remove all design solutions from EWR 127-1.

  • Establish a range user’s handbook or other controlled document to capture lessons learned and design solutions recognized by the ranges as acceptable means of compliance. (Requirements should be retained in EWR 127-1.)

  • Form a joint government/industry team to establish procedures for periodically updating EWR 127-1 and ensuring that future requirements are performance based.

  • Converge the modeling and analysis approaches, tools, assumptions, and operational procedures used at the Western and Eastern Ranges.

Finding 3-1. AFSPC has transferred responsibility to AFMC for development, developmental testing and evaluation, and sustaining engineering of range safety ground systems. Organizational responsibilities for many other range safety processes and procedures, however, are inconsistent with the current memorandum of agreement between AFSPC and AFMC on spacelift roles and responsibilities. In addition to the operational workforce, each AFSPC range safety office also has an engineering workforce that establishes flight safety system design and testing requirements and certifies that flight safety systems meet safety requirements at the component, subsystem, and system levels. These acquisition-like functions overlap the responsibilities of AFMC.

Finding 3-2. The complete transfer of range safety development, developmental testing and evaluation, and sustaining engineering to AFMC would, if properly implemented, increase efficiency and reduce costs without compromising safety by eliminating overlapping responsibilities between the ranges and AFMC, by minimizing differences in range safety policies and procedures applicable to the Western and Eastern Ranges, and by enabling users to deal with a single office when seeking approval to use new or modified systems on both ranges.

Primary Recommendation on Roles and Responsibilities. The Air Force should fully implement the memorandum of agreement between AFSPC and AFMC on spacelift roles and responsibilities. This would consolidate within AFMC the acquisition-like functions related to safety that are now performed by AFSPC organizations at the Eastern and Western Ranges. These functions include developmental testing and evaluation, sustaining engineering, and certifying that system designs meet safety requirements. To manage the safety aspects of the acquisition-like functions specified in the memorandum of agreement, AFMC should establish an independent safety office. Operational responsibilities, such as generating safety requirements, operational testing and evaluation, and all prelaunch and launch safety operational functions, would be retained by AFSPC.

Suggested Citation: "Appendix A: Findings and Recommendations." National Research Council. Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.

Recommendation 3-1. AFSPC should issue an Air Force Instruction addressing the certification of flight safety systems for commercial, civil, and military launches at the Western or Eastern Range. The instruction should include a description of interfaces among responsible organizations, such as AFSPC, AFMC, FAA, NASA, and commercial contractors.

Finding 3-3. A collective risk standard (i.e., a casualty expectation, or Ec) of 30 x 10-6 per launch for members of the general public is consistent with the risk standards of many other fields in which the public is involuntarily exposed to risk, both domestically and internationally.

Primary Recommendation on Risk Management. AFSPC should define objective, consistent risk standards (e.g., casualty expectation, Ec, of 30 × 10−6 and individual risk, Pc, of 1 × 10−6) and use them as the basis for range safety decisions. Safety procedures based on risk avoidance should be replaced with procedures consistent with the risk management philosophy specified by EWR 127-1. Destruct lines and flight termination system requirements should be defined and implemented in a way that is directly traceable to accepted risk standards.

Finding 3-4. At the Eastern Range, the downrange location of gates and destruct lines and current requirements for downrange coverage by flight termination, telemetry, and tracking systems are not directly related to accepted risk standards (e.g., Ec of 30 × 10−6 or Pc of 1 × 10−6) but to a risk-avoidance policy that discourages the overflight of inhabited landmasses whenever possible. The Western Range implements this policy by constraining the azimuth of orbital launches.

Finding 3-5. Moving the Africa gates uprange has the potential to reduce the cost of safety-related downrange assets, decrease the complexity of range safety operations, and reduce launch holds and delays. Moving the Africa gates to within the reach of uprange flight termination, telemetry, and tracking systems is not likely to increase Ec significantly or violate established limits. No known international agreements would preclude moving the gates. Thus, in terms of range safety there is no clear justification for retaining downrange assets at Antigua and Ascension. It may also be feasible to move other gates uprange and further reduce the need for downrange facilities.

Primary Recommendation on Africa Gates. While other requirements may exist, from the perspective of launch range safety the Air Force should move the Africa gates to within the limits of uprange flight termination and tracking systems; eliminate the use of assets in Antigua and Ascension for range safety support; and conduct a detailed technical assessment to validate the feasibility of moving other gates uprange. If other requirements for downrange tracking exist, AFSPC should validate those requirements and reexamine this recommendation in light of the additional requirements.

Recommendation 3-2. AFSPC should identify and correct unwarranted conservatism in analytical models and verify that modeling and analytical methods are properly implemented. Periodic, independent reviews should be conducted to ensure that the level of modeling detail is appropriate given the accuracy of model inputs and assumptions.

Finding 3-6. The overall modeling and analysis approaches at the Eastern and Western Ranges are similar, but there are some significant differences in analytical tools, assumptions, and operational procedures. These include differences in analysis software packages, methods of defining ship exclusion zones, and displays for monitoring the launch vehicle trajectory. The differences may increase costs because of overlap or duplication of effort in developing models, software, and hardware for the two ranges.

Flight Safety Requirements

Recommendation 4-1. As a matter of good engineering practice, the requirement for two independent sources of tracking data should be retained, and the accuracy of telemetered inertial guidance data should be verified after launch. AFSPC should clarify EWR 127-1 to specify that telemetered inertial guidance data can serve as one of the two sources of tracking data.

Finding 4-1. For space launches, an onboard GPS receiver tracking system would be more versatile and have lower total life-cycle costs than GPS translator or radar tracking systems.

Finding 4-2. Real-time GPS tracking systems have an overall cost and performance advantage over the single-object radar network that has been the workhorse on both the Eastern and Western Ranges for many years. Implementation of a GPS tracking system would increase users’ recurring and nonrecurring costs in the short term, but it would benefit users in the long term by increasing operational flexibility. A GPS tracking system would also yield long-term costs savings for the ranges.

Primary Recommendation on GPS Receivers. AFSPC should deploy a GPS receiver tracking system as the baseline range tracking system for space launch vehicles. The transition to GPS-based tracking should be completed as rapidly as feasible.

Finding 4-3. Upgrades to onboard tracking systems currently in use and to new systems, such as GPS receivers,

Suggested Citation: "Appendix A: Findings and Recommendations." National Research Council. Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.

are relatively costly for individual users. Each user currently must develop or acquire hardware, prove that it meets safety requirements, demonstrate its compatibility with range support equipment, provide for qualification and acceptance testing, and support confidence checks in the final countdown.

Recommendation 4-2. AFSPC should form a range-industry team to define performance requirements and technical specifications for the onboard elements of a GPS receiver tracking system, including cost, weight, size, and power limitations, and to establish user requirements during the transition from radar to GPS-based tracking systems. A cost-shared government/industry project should be established for the development and qualification testing of common end-user equipment. Range users should pay for the recurring costs of onboard hardware.

Finding 4-4. With the incorporation of onboard GPS receivers, semiautonomous and fully autonomous flight termination systems would become technically feasible. These systems might substantially reduce range support costs, but additional research and testing is needed to resolve outstanding issues and quantify the likely benefits.


Finding 5-1. A limit of 1 × 10−5 for individual ship-hit probability, Pi, is reasonable and consistent with an Ec of 30 × 10−6. However, the use of collective risk in the Eastern Range ship exclusion process is not consistent with either the corresponding Western Range process or accepted guidelines for the evacuation of hazard areas, which are both based on individual risk. Aircraft avoidance criterion are not specified by EWR 127-1, are applied differently at the Eastern and Western Ranges, and are not supported by analyses showing that they are consistent with other range safety criteria.

Primary Recommendation on Risk Standards for Aircraft and Ships. AFSPC should apply the individual ship-hit criterion, Pi, of 1 × 10−6 to the ship exclusion process at the Eastern Range in the same way it is used at the Western Range. EWR 127-1 should be modified to specify an aircraft-hit Pi limit of 1 × 10−6 (properly calculated to include the probability of impact for very small pieces of debris). Prior to each launch, the range should establish aircraft hazard areas (based on the aircraft Pi) and buffer zones (for uncontrolled aircraft in the vicinity of the hazard area). Launches should be allowed to proceed as long as no intruder aircraft are in the hazard area or buffer zone.

Recommendation 5-1. AFSPC should determine maximum-acceptable blast overpressure limits and apply these limits to ship-hit calculations at both the Western and Eastern Ranges.

Finding 5-2. Detecting marine and aircraft intruders earlier and shortening the time required to clear them from the launch area would reduce disruptions, costs, and risks associated with launch holds and scrubs, especially at the Eastern Range where intruders are more of a problem.

Recommendation 5-2. AFSPC should expeditiously improve range surveillance and interdiction capabilities, as follows:

  • Use commercial aircraft equipped with suitable surveillance, navigation, communications, and image recording systems in place of military aircraft.

  • Implement the proposed Cape Canaveral Range Surveillance System (CRaSS) for surveillance and clearing of aircraft intruders at the Eastern Range.

Finding 5-3. Current guidelines and procedures for notifying operators of general aviation aircraft and small boats of active launch hazard areas do not prevent incursions, especially at the Eastern Range.

Recommendation 5-3. AFSPC should improve the launch communications and notification process, as follows:

  • Make greater use of public media, such as newspapers, radio and television broadcasts, the Internet, notices at public marinas and general aviation airports, and aviation and marine weather broadcasts.

  • Modify signs, lights, and other warning devices at marinas and along the coast, as necessary.

  • Inform the public on the extent of safe viewing areas to discourage operators of small boats and aircraft from encroaching on hazard areas.

Recommendation 5-4. In combination with efforts to improve surveillance and interdiction capabilities and the public notification process, AFSPC should aggressively enforce restrictions against intruders at both ranges to encourage compliance with launch notifications. In cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and other regulatory and law enforcement agencies, AFSPC should initiate administrative and regulatory changes to facilitate enforcement action against intruders who were afforded ample, timely launch notifications.

Suggested Citation: "Appendix A: Findings and Recommendations." National Research Council. Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.
Page 43
Suggested Citation: "Appendix A: Findings and Recommendations." National Research Council. Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.
Page 44
Suggested Citation: "Appendix A: Findings and Recommendations." National Research Council. Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.
Page 45
Next: Appendix B: Biographies of Committee Members »
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The U.S. space program is rapidly changing from an activity driven by federal government launches to one driven by commercial launches. In 1997, for the first time commercial launches outnumbered government launches at the Eastern Range (ER), located at Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida. Commercial activity is also increasing at the Western Range (WR), located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The government itself is emulating commercial customers, shifting from direct management of launch programs to the purchase of space launch services from U.S. commercial launch companies in an open, competitive market.

The fundamental goal of the U.S. space program is to ensure safe, reliable, and affordable access to space. Despite the inherent danger of space launches, the U.S. space program has demonstrated its ability to protect the public. No launch site worker or member of the general public has been killed or seriously injured in any of the 4,600 launches conducted at the ER and WR during the entire 50-year history of the space age.

Streamlining Space Launch Range Safety discusses whether range safety processes can be made more efficient and less costly without compromising public safety. This report presents six primary recommendations, which address risk management, Africa gates, roles and responsibilities, range safety documentation [EWR 127-1]), global positioning system (GPS) receiver tracking systems, and risk standards for aircraft and ships.

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