The Houston Airport System (HAS) and NASA have entered into an agreement today that will allow the new commercial spaceport developing at Ellington Airport (EFD) to tap into the federal space agency’s assets and expertise, expanding the possibilities for the growing commercial spaceflight industry.
Under the Umbrella Agreement — made possible by NASA’s Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate — HAS and NASA will collaborate, providing access to a number of the unique capabilities at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), including things like safety-specific training, facilities, and technology capabilities, to support suborbital operations and commercial spaceflight endeavors.
“The Johnson Space Center represents an invaluable asset for the entire City of Houston and especially for those of us who are working to establish Houston Spaceport as a force within the aerospace industry,” says Houston Airport System Director Mario C. Diaz. “One of the primary reasons why the City of Houston made such perfect sense as the site for the nation’s 10th commercial spaceport is the existence of strong intellectual capital at JSC and the willingness of their leadership team to form substantive partnerships.”
The Houston Spaceport at EFD became the 10th commercial spaceport in the United States when it received a license from the Federal Aviation Administration in June 2015 to support operations of horizontally launched Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLVs). The agreement with NASA offers access to the JSC's unique capabilities in several areas, including risk analysis, engineering analysis, mission operations, training, spacecraft systems testing and mission execution.
The ultimate goal is to make the Houston Spaceport a focal point for aerospace innovation — a regional center for a cluster of aerospace entities that would act as an incubator for aerospace innovation and growth. As part of this effort, HAS is developing a design center that will facilitate collaboration between NASA, the FAA, and the aerospace industry.
System Safety Fundamentals training stresses the analytical process of system safety management and hazard analysis of hardware, software, and operations. Additional concepts and principles are introduced on risk assessment, risk management, and hazardous operations. The NASA Safety Training Center (NSTC) at the Johnson Space Center provides unique safety training that enables students to meet uniform engineering/technical requirements for processes, procedures, practices and methods that have been endorsed as a standard for NASA programs and projects.
Unlike system safety training available in the commercial marketplace, NASA's course provides examples and discussion specifically related to aerospace. A system safety course with a focus on aerospace is directly applicable to the types of operations envisioned to be conducted at the Houston Spaceport. In addition, NSTC instructors provide training on the causes and outcomes of aerospace accidents and incidents which is not available from other sources.
The agreement helps NASA achieve its functions as expressed in the National Aeronautics and Space Act to "seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space." In addition, because safety is a core value at NASA, this partnership helps NASA in its mission to transfer its knowledge and expertise in system safety to the private sector as part of its mission to disseminate information, to enable it to encourage the development of a commercial space sector mission operations capability for operating in low Earth orbit.