What does the Titan tragedy have to do with Bezos? Implosion shows insecurity in space travel

commercial space travel share many similarities with deep-sea tourism: wealthy clients, tight spaces, far-flung destinations, and exemptions that clearly warn people that are at risk of dying when embarking in unregulated vehicles.

As the world analyzes what went wrong With the OceanGate submersible vessel, the ship’s lack of safeguards is raising alarms. The founder of the deep-sea voyage group once called safety “pure waste” and industry peers pointed to the potentially “catastrophic” results of his “experimental” approach to ocean exploration.

Submersibles like the Titan are subject little security oversight, even less when they are in international waters. A similar regulatory regime, or lack of one, governs commercial manned spaceflight. And while the private space industry hasn’t seen a disaster on the scale of the OceanGate fiasco, the risks are there.

“There is great concern that not having those safety standards is going to result in some shady operations that result on injured or dead clients”said Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation, a space sustainability nonprofit that pushes to curb space junk and better manage space traffic.

Under current US law, the Federal Aviation Administration cannot impose safety standards on commercial spacecraft that transport people into space. That may change as soon as the end of this year, unless the current law is extended.

‘Informed consent’ flights

Commercial passengers boarding Elon Musk’s SpaceX-operated vehicle; Virgin Galactic, or Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos, the only companies that currently offer space tourism flightsthey do it low an “informed consent” framework. That means they recognize that The Government has not certified the safety of commercial vessels and that “participation in spaceflight can result in death, serious injury, or loss of all or part of physical or mental function.”

However, SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon passenger capsule under NASA’s safety requirements, as the company uses the vehicle to send the agency’s astronauts to the International Space Station.

Virgin Galactic declined to comment and Blue Origin and SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment.

This informed consent regime began in 2004 with the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, which placed a regulatory moratorium on the FAA on commercial spaceflight for eight years. Congress has extended the moratorium twice over the years, but it expires again this October.

The FAA is taking preliminary steps to develop a safety framework for commercial human spaceflight before the moratorium expires, a spokesman told BloombergNews. The agency is also updating its recommended practices for human spaceflight occupant safety and working to develop voluntary consensus standards.

Frank Lucaschairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said Friday that regulations for commercial space travel are being investigated, but did not provide details.

The justification for the lack of supervision so far is that the space industry is still in a “learning period”much like commercial aviation in its early years.

“Some fear that imposing government security standards early in the process will stifle the industry,” Weeden said.

Can one get lost in space?

Although the FAA cannot enforce safety standardsis responsible for authorizing all space launches and re-entries, but primarily ensures that any associated mishaps do not harm the environment or private property.

The mechanics of space tourism differs substantially from that of commercial deepwater exploration. For one thing, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic passengers aren’t really in danger of getting lost during a flight: they don’t actually reach orbit, and gravity would quickly bring them back to Earth. SpaceX puts its ships into orbit, but there is a lot of tracking technology to locate spatial objects if communication is interrupted.

Space companies also conduct numerous high-profile tests and often emphasize their commitment to safety. However, the exact protocols and procedures can be somewhat opaque.

Yet mishaps have occurred. In July 2021, when Virgin Galactic took founder Richard Branson into space, the ship veered off its intended flight path; and in 2014, one pilot was killed and another seriously injured during a test flight. Last year, a blue origin rocket intended for passengers crashed after its engine failed. There was no one on board and Blue Origin noted that the flight’s security measures operated as designed during an emergency.

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What does the Titan tragedy have to do with Bezos? Implosion shows insecurity in space travel