Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on May 1, 2019.

We Have Ignition

NFPA will pursue the creation of a new standard on the construction and operation of spaceports

BY JESSE ROMAN

With the second Space Age now upon us, NFPA is making moves to shore up safety guidance for those blasting off to the final frontier.

NFPA Conference Sessions
NFPA Conference & Expo, San Antonio, TX, June 17-20, 2019
CONFERENCE SESSIONS

Lift-Off—Commercial Spaceports and the Fire Community
Wednesday, June 19, 9:15–10:15 a.m.

Jason Scott, NASA; Michael J. Gollner, University of Maryland

The NFPA Standards Council recently voted to approve the creation of a new NFPA standard that would, for the first time, lay out safety requirements for the construction and operation of commercial spaceports. NFPA is seeking subject experts to join the technical committee for the new spaceport document (nfpa.org/tcseek). The application deadline is May 17.

As detailed in last year’s NFPA Journal cover story on spaceports [“Primed for Lift-Off,” March/April 2018], commercial space travel is a booming industry, generating an estimated $335 billion annually. The number of commercial launches has been steadily rising, as is the demand for spaceports, the facilities that store, fuel, prep, and launch rockets and spaceplanes—essentially airports for space travel. There are 12 spaceports in the US, with at least four others under construction or going through the permitting process.

With the number of privately owned spaceports expected to increase world wide in coming years, officials from NASA and elsewhere worry that safety regulations for the facilities are scattered, conflicting, and in some cases nonexistent.

“If you are a local fire marshal or authority having jurisdiction trying to understand and figure out how to build a spaceport, make it safe, and respond and do emergency planning, I feel for you. There isn’t really any good guidance out there,” Jason Scott, the program manager for fire protection at NASA and head of fire protection at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said in an interview last year.

Once the exclusive domain of federal governments, space travel has emerged in the last decade as a commercial money-making venture. Companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and a growing cadre of frisky upstarts have invested billions in rocket technology to scoop up lucrative government research and supply contracts and to meet a burgeoning corporate demand. Television, communications, imaging, research, global positioning systems, academic interests, and more are looking to private firms to help them get equipment into orbit. There’s also no shortage of affluent space tourists waiting to pay big money to blast off.

In addition to the proposed new standard, the Fire Protection Research Foundation has been working to better understand spaceports, partnering last year with the University of Maryland on a comprehensive literature review of spaceport safety. The paper, published in October, included a look at available fire protection standards and guidance, fire incidents at spaceports, and listed fire hazards related to the facilities.

The author of that report, Michael J. Gollner, will join Scott from NASA to discuss the spaceport fire safety issue at the upcoming NFPA Conference & Expo in June in San Antonio.

JESSE ROMAN is associate editor for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Space X