Monday, May 27, 2013

Space tourism industry faces safety concerns

Industry watchers concerned that safety risks for space travelers not transparent  

The Associated Press
Posted: May 27, 2013 10:27 AM ET
Last Updated: May 27, 2013 10:25 AM ET

Space-industry watchers expressed concern that the emerging space tourism sector is not being candid enough about the safety risks for travellers.

They voiced some concerns during a conference of the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety, which held three days of meetings in Montreal.

Tommaso Sgobba, an aeronautical engineer and the agency's outgoing president, called suborbital flight safety "a serious matter that should be pursued with openness and transparency."

"We have no clue what they are having as a policy," Sgobba said, speaking of the industry during an interview.

Virgin Galactic, one of the industry pioneers, held the first powered flight of its SpaceShipTwo last month, moving the company closer to its goal of flying paying passengers.

Sir Richard Branson initially predicted that suborbital flights by his space tourism company would begin in 2007, but a deadly explosion during ground testing and some delays during test flights have pushed the deadline back.

Sgobba conceded that space tourism companies might argue that issues related to ownership or design could be exploited and used against them.

But, in his view, there is too much resistance to discussing safety.

"I believe that they are shrouding this into a level of secrecy that is not good for the industry itself," said Sgobba, who was responsible for flight safety at the European Space Agency until last year.

"They should be more open and communicate what they do."

Members of the non-profit IAASS, which was established in 2004 in the Netherlands, include universities, institutions, corporations and professional associations.

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