The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) has issued its Annual Report for 2019 to the U.S. Congress and NASA.

The report is based on the Panel’s 2019 fact-finding and insight visits; quarterly public meetings; direct observations of NASA operations and decision-making; discussions with NASA management, employees, and contractors; and the Panel members’ past experiences.

Excitement and reasoned caution

In reviewing NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the Moon, a transmittal letter in the report to NASA chief, Jim Bridenstine, ASAP’s chair, Patricia Sanders, explains that “this is a time for both excitement and reasoned caution.”

Credit: NASA

“NASA’s human space flight brand and reputation are driven by 60 years of operational excellence performing complex missions in extraordinarily difficult endeavors. Nevertheless, the dynamic environment of Lunar 2024, imposed on an Agency still involved in complex and hazardous operations in orbit, while simultaneously developing or sponsoring development of new rockets, spacecraft, and critical equipment, will challenge the NASA community,” Sanders explains.

Complexity and uncertainty

As NASA undertakes the most ambitious human foray beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) since 1972, the ASAP advises:

  • Regardless of how NASA addresses the technical challenges, the nation must avoid fluctuating policy goals, ambiguous objectives, budget inadequacies, and instability—including partial and full-year Continuing Resolutions—which add complexity and uncertainty to program management.
  • Acknowledging the value of setting challenging but realistic and achievable schedules, NASA must guard against undue schedule pressure that might lead to decisions adversely impacting safety and mission assurance.
  • NASA leadership must deliberately focus on communication and engagement with the workforce to preclude disconnects in risk assumptions across the organization and a culture of risk taking rather than one focused on deliberate risk management.
  • As NASA evolves its interactions with commercial providers, it must maintain focus on the core tenets of system development as the mission is ultimately still a NASA responsibility.

Orbital debris: a persistent concern

Among a number of ASAP observations, “another persistent concern” of the ASAP is the risk of damage to orbiting spacecraft due to micrometeoroids and orbital debris (MMOD).

Clutter in the cosmos.
Credit: Used with permission: Melrae Pictures/Space Junk 3D

The hazard from MMOD has been recognized as a major issue in every program, the report explains.  MMOD is the dominant contributor to the calculations of loss-of-crew (LOC) predictions for both commercial crew vehicles and Orion, and it is a factor in two of the top three safety risks for the International Space Station.

“We were encouraged that Space Policy Directive-3 focused on this risk, but it remains essential that meaningful implementation actions be taken to address what is a burgeoning safety hazard,” the report notes. “Given the increasing congestion in orbit and industry-wide plans to launch many mega-constellations in LEO, consisting of hundreds or even thousands of satellites, this issue needs immediate attention.”

To read the entire ASAP report for 2019, go to:


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