NASA Fears SpaceX Falcon 9 Fueling Plan

By Monica U Santos , Nov 07, 2016 05:26 PM EST

At a meeting on Monday, NASA’s Space Station Advisory Committee member argued that fueling is a "hazardous operation" that shouldn’t be performed anywhere near people. A panel of expert advisors to NASA have expressed their concern regarding the plan to fuel SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets with astronauts on board. The committee said it has had these concerns before, but their anxieties have increased after one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets exploded on the launchpad during routine fueling procedures.

According to The Verge, the most vocal about these propellant risks was Air Force Lt. General Thomas Stafford, who chairs the advisory committee. It’s the second time Stafford has called into question SpaceX’s fueling practices. In 2015, he sent a letter to NASA headquarters in which he argued that fueling a vehicle with people onboard goes against decades of human spaceflight procedures. Typically, people have boarded rockets after the vehicles have been fueled, in order to minimize accidents that may spring up during the loading process.

SpaceX maintained that it has "designed a reliable fueling and launch process that minimizes" the risk posed to people, according to a statement of SpaceX. NASA safety review board approved a report in June about the hazards of the plan on fueling Flacon 9.

But SpaceX also said that its fueling process is not exactly in stone either. In the update they released, the company said it still doesn't know the exact cause of the explosion last Sept. 1. However, they manage to create a to recreate a failure with the Falcon 9 during the fuel loading tests in Texas.

Nowadays, the company is working on improving its fueling processes as it tries to return to flight, and "corrective action" may be taken depending on what SpaceX learns from its investigation. "As needed, any additional controls will be put in place to ensure crew safety, from the moment the astronauts reach the pad, through fueling, launch, and spaceflight, and until they are brought safely home," the company said in a statement.

As a result, future missions – which include crewed ones – will have to be fueled immediately before launch in order to ensure that the rocket's fuel and lift capacity are not compromised. The Advisory Committee's recommendations could therefore have a significant impact on how SpaceX does business. However, there recommendations might be a bit premature as far as crewed missions go, as reported by Phys.Org.


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