Space Weather Biological and System Effects for Suborbital Flights

The Aerospace Corporation was tasked to assess the impacts of space weather on both Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLVs) and Expendable Launch Vehicles (ELVs) operating at suborbital altitudes from launch sites located in the low (equatorial regions), middle, and high latitudes. The present report presents a broad overview of the space environment, seeks to quantify radiation exposure, and describes the potential hazards that a suborbital RLV, including passengers and crew, can expect to encounter during a suborbital flight from launch points located in the low, middle, and high latitudes. Owing to the short duration of flights (~30 minutes, or less), the even shorter exposure at altitudes where all but the most energetic particles may penetrate with significant fluxes (~ 5 minutes) the exposure of crew and passengers is minimal, except under circumstance such as Solar Particle Events (SPEs) occurring less than ~ 5% of the time. Under typical conditions the radiation exposure to crew and passengers on a suborbital flight is less that for a long duration airline flight. Avoiding exposure to potentially harmful radiation associated with solar or geophysical disturbances can be achieved by locating launch sites at middle latitudes, or lower or by delaying flights when there are indications that an SPE is in progress or is imminent. It is most likely that the lower intensity primary and secondary radiation environments below some latitudes are benign enough that launch can occur at any time, including the ~5% of the time when particular events associated with potentially significant risk occur. In the case of a high-latitude site, such as the site considered here, a possible launch commit criterion could be based on event probability distributions. Forecasts and monitoring (now-casting) support is available from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA’s) Space Weather Prediction Center. Although the radiation risk for crew and passengers is minimal except possibly at high latitudes and during solar and geomagnetic disturbances, crew and passengers should be monitored for radiation exposure. This is because of the potential for litigation and the possibility, however remote, that the onset of an event such as an unanticipated SPE could occur during flight. Passengers should also be briefed on the radiation risks in the spirit of informed consent.

  • Record URL:
  • Corporate Authors:

    Aerospace Corporation

    El Segundo, CA  United States 

    Research and Innovative Technology Administration

    Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, 55 Broadway
    Cambridge, MA  United States  02142

    Federal Aviation Administration

    Office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation
    Washington, DC  United States  20591
  • Authors:
    • Turner, R E
    • Farrier, T A
    • Mazur, J E
    • Walterscheid, R L
    • Seibold, R W
  • Publication Date: 2008-10-31


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Edition: Final Report
  • Features: Figures; Glossary; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 66p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01638208
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: DOT-VNTSC-RITA-08-03, ATR-2009(5390)-1
  • Contract Numbers: DTRT57-05-D-30103; Task 13B
  • Created Date: Jun 20 2017 1:45PM