by Lt. Col. Beth Kelley Horine
Air Force Safety Center Public Affairs
6/2/2014 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Space
is no longer the final frontier, but a complex domain the Air Force
must operate in safely. Recent Hollywood productions depicting dangerous
space events - hurtling space debris blowing satellites to bits;
disconnected astronauts flying off into infinity - help show the risk,
albeit exaggerated, of operating safely in space.
In reality, history offers its own examples of the dangers of space and
launch operations -failed missile launches, exploding rockets on the
launch pad, two Space Shuttle mishaps, and even a 'mid-air' collision in
space. These all emphasize the need to develop and mature a safety
culture for Airmen operating in the space domain.
Space safety continues to grow as a vital industry among space
professionals worldwide. A newly-defined mission set within Air Force
safety circles, the Space Safety Division (SES) at the Air Force Safety
Center, recently obtained full authority to develop space safety policy,
guidance and initiatives to help prevent Air Force space mishaps.
"The Space Safety Division was designed to help promote and emphasize
space safety program development," said Maj. Gen. Kurt Neubauer, chief
of Air Force safety and the Air Force Safety Center commander.
"Understanding space safety's impact and the role it plays in the
international space industry, U.S. national defense, and global space
management is crucial for safe Air Force space operations."
Drawing parallels to flight, ground, and weapons safety programs, SES
seeks opportunities to improve space situational awareness, or SSA.
Improved SSA can, in turn, potentially mitigate the risk of future
mishaps. According to Mark Glissman, SES director, space hazard
mitigation, explained as SSA with a safety focus, offers unique
challenges to Air Force operations, since space is a shared, global
domain requiring international collaboration and management.
"Air Force space safety development requires extensive coordination
across other government agencies, non-government agencies and the
international space community," Glissman said. "SES is the launch button
to facilitate the Air Force's space safety role and help develop a
space safety culture."
"Even amidst budgetary uncertainty and sequestration, space safety is a
vital strategic program requiring continued growth and development to
increase SSA and mitigate risks of space mishaps," Glissman added.
"There is a need to communicate and advocate for the development,
funding and growth of space safety initiatives, priorities and policy."
The Space Safety Division didn't form overnight. In 2001, the U.S.
Congress's National Commission on Space concluded the security and
well-being of the U.S., its allies and friends depend on the nation's
ability to operate in space. To ensure continued U.S. space leadership
and ability to meet future threats, the Commission made several
recommendations for the administration, Department of Defense and Air
Force to reflect the growing importance of space.
In response, the Air Force released a directive to implement the
Secretary of Defense's decisions regarding recommendations made by the
Space Commission. Included in the directive was a requirement for the
Air Force chief of safety to review, coordinate, and approve all new
space safety-related policy documents to ensure adherence to
international treaties and Department of Defense and Air Force space
"Combined with the Commission's recommendations, this directive not only
outlined the mind-set that safety should be normalized into U.S. Air
Force space operations to the same degree and commitment as Air Force
flying, ground, and weapons safety, but also planted the seed for a
Space Safety Division equal to the other established Air Force Safety
Center divisions," Glissman said.
Today, where there once was little, if any, policy language regarding
space safety, it's evident space safety is fully incorporated into
Headquarters Air Force directives with flight, munitions, nuclear, and
ground, Glissman added.
"Our HAF Mission Directive 1-46 makes our SES mission clear: 'Formation
of space safety policy, the execution of plans, and the establishment of
programs to implement Air Force safety policies and plans.' In layman's
terms, we provide instructions for field-level programs and feedback on
mishap prevention effectiveness of efforts," Glissman explained.
What are those efforts? As SES becomes more integrated with the Air
Force safety enterprise and the international space community, new
programs to provide improved SSA to Air Force operations are on the
"For example, by trending existing space debris data we may be able to
use that information to reduce future mishaps, either by adjusting space
asset maneuvers, improving fuel planning, or increasing payload
lifecycles," explained Lt. Col. Baron Greenhouse, SES deputy director.
"This could help prevent potential issues for Air Force assets in highly congested areas," Greenhouse added.
Similar to the Air Force's Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard -- or
BASH-- program, which strives to mitigate the impact of wildlife on air
operations, or similar to current proactive safety programs, which take
aerial hazard reports from aviators to develop a better situational site
picture of the airspace, SES plans to work toward space-related
mitigation and/or situational site programs for space operators in the
"We have most of the required data, but we are still maturing the safety
culture in our Air Force space community," Greenhouse said. "We must
continue to focus on incorporating the safety mindset into Air Force
space personnel as much as it is present in our flight, ground and
Is space truly the final frontier for the safety industry? Some point
toward the cyberspace domain as the next arena to explore safety
applications and development. For now, SES will focus on space safety
development for the next generation of Airmen.