Jules Verne ATV docking

Flight Safety

Safety is embedded in every part of everyday life – crossing the street, stepping into the car every morning, taking a transatlantic flight, producing energy in nuclear power plants.

Space is no exception. Imagine a 20 tonne spaceship - the Automated Transfer Vehicle – that after being placed into orbit needs to find its way to the International Space Station (ISS) moving at a velocity of 27000 Km/hour and at an altitude of 400Km above the Earth. Clearly, for this mission, safety is paramount since astronauts’ lives are at stake aboard the ISS.

A life without adventure is likely to be unsatisfying, but a life in which adventure is allowed to take whatever form it will, is likely to be short.
-- Bertrand Russell

What is the Flight Safety domain?

The paramount requirement for safety is the protection of human life, public property, and the environment. The definition of safety introduces the concept of risk and implicitly suggests that some risk might be tolerated. For example, even though antibiotics have side effects people do not decline to take them; on the other hand, even though a helmet protects your head people do not wear them every time they risk falling. Safety is therefore a subjective concept that has been perceived differently over time, involving not only the elimination and control of unsafe technical characteristics but also social, organizational and cultural aspects.

In the development of a project several facets of safety are involved: safety management, safety engineering, safety assessment and safety assurance.

Safety management is a continuous and iterative process throughout the project life cycle devoted to study, plan and implement activities intended to minimise safety risks of a system within the project constraints. Safety management ensures that all safety risks are adequately identified, assessed, minimised, controlled and finally accepted as part of project risk management.

Safety engineering is the technical and organisational implementation of safety in the design and operation.

Safety assessment/analyses are performed on the system as a whole – hardware, software, human factors - and involve the identification, control and verification of associated hazards and failure scenarios. These analyses are not conducted in isolation and are performed with the contribution of experts from several disciplines.

Safety assurance essentially monitors and assesses the activities of safety management, assessment and engineering, and its implementation in order to provide evidence that the final outcome of the safety assessment is trustworthy.

Safety and Dependability (Reliability, Availability, Maintainability) within ESA are integrated disciplines covering satellites (hardware, software), as well as ground infrastructure and operations (human aspects). It encompasses many areas of expertise and scientific knowledge throughout the life cycle phases of a space project.

Last update: 10 December 2012

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