Friday, January 9, 2015

No to manned space balloon flight in Singapore: Civil Aviation Authority

SINGAPORE: The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore on Friday (Jan 9) disallowed the planned launch of a manned space balloon flight from Singapore because of "significant safety and operational concerns".

CAAS said in a statement that the position was conveyed to IN.Genius, the local company spearheading the launch, in late 2013.

"Given the high density of air traffic in our skies and of the populace, space balloon flights cannot be launched from Singapore due to safety risks to aircraft in the Singapore Flight Information Region, as well as to lives and property on the ground," it said.

IN.Genius had planned to send the first Singaporean into space for the country's 50th birthday as a gift to the nation. The space capsule would be launched 20km - into a region called the "Armstrong Line" or the beginning of space - using a stratospheric balloon, cruise for 30 minutes, then return to Earth by parachute and parafoil.

A dozen Singaporeans vying for the one spot to go up have been put through vigorous physical training to prepare for the trip, which was planned to coincide with Singapore's National Day in August. 

The company’s founder Lim Seng had called the plan a “viable, proven, safe way of flying to space”. The stratospheric balloons have been used by the Russians, Europeans and Americans to launch equipment into space, he said.

TOO MANY RISKS: CAAS

A space balloon has limited steering capability, moves at a relatively slow speed and is highly affected by environmental conditions such as winds. As such, it may drift from its desired flight path and pose safety risks to other aircraft, CAAS said.

To maintain a safety buffer, aircraft will have to be diverted away from a large zone around the balloon's flight path. This will require closure of the affected airspace for prolonged periods, causing severe disruption to civilian air traffic.

"Hundreds of flights and hundreds and thousands of passengers could be adversely affected," CAAS stated.

The operation of the balloon also entails the jettisoning of up to 500kg of ballast, posing a significant danger to persons and property on the ground.

"In other countries where space balloon flights have been tried, they are carried out in specially designated facilities far away from civilian air traffic and populated areas," CAAS said.

There are approximately 1,000 flights from Changi Airport a day, and about 1,600 air traffic movements daily around the Singapore Flight Information Region, the airspace managed by Singapore.

"THE LAUNCH WILL GO ON"

The man behind the project says that despite the objection faced, the launch will go on, but outside of Singapore.

"Yes, it will go on," Mr Lim said, "I'm a die-hard guy. You see the point is that I will persevere. I'm trying my best."

A test launch, with three rats on board, is set to take place in Hyderabad, India on Jan 28, which will then be followed by a manned test flight of up to 8,000km into the stratosphere, in April in Alice Springs, Australia.

The location for the actual launch into the Armstrong Line in August is yet to be nailed down, but possibly locations include India, Australia and even out at sea.

"When CAAS says it cannot launch from Singapore - it's very understandable. We are in the aviation business and safety is paramount. Singapore is a small country with very congested airspace. So I would be surprised if it was approve just now, so to speak. So what we need to do is to constantly build confidence and how do you that? More and more flight tests.

"My attitude is always open minded and CAAS knows that. I've always invited them to come and see our flight test. It is only building confidence and for them to assess that the system is safe and reliable, then we will be able to navigate and take off from Singapore." 

An aviation expert says for space transport to take off, there needs to be segregation of airspace.

"For Singapore, this will be more difficult as compared to countries with large airspace," said Dr Hsin Chen Chung, director of Air Traffic Management Research Institute at Nanyang Technology University. "I use the word segregated airspace - up until this point, all the effort in space transportation is being conducted in a segregated air space, meaning separate from civil aviation operation or even military operation because of the concern of safety and lack of rules, regulations, procedures, etc.

"So I say we can separate the space transportation into two phases. The first phase is research, exploration, the second phase would be space transportation operation. Between the two phases, there's a huge gap and that's what we need to work together, and work harder to jump from one to the other.

"I believe now we are in the research exploration stage, so this of course poses some difficulty for Singapore because Singapore is very small and our air space is also small."

Stopping all air traffic even for a few hours, just to accommodate the space flight, is too significant. Imagine the cost and the inconvenience to travellers. Dr Hsin says that's something neither Singapore, nor the region, can afford.

In other countries where space balloon flights have been tried, they are carried out in specially designated facilities, far away from civilian air traffic and populated areas.

For example, the Red Bull Stratos mission was launched from a dessert, in Roswell, New Mexico, USA.

Original article can be found at: http://www.channelnewsasia.com

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