Explosion hazard analysis at space ports


The safety of people and equipment around the launch sites is paramount in what is a relatively new field of commercial space transport

Marex was asked to look at fire and explosion hazards associated with operations at a space launch site

Britain is set to make a remarkable aerospace breakthrough. For the first time, a satellite will be put into orbit from a launch pad in the United Kingdom.

Marex has been able to use the knowledge and expertise gained from 25 years of assessing hazardous environments to support the safe operations in this fledgling UK industry.

The story of Saturn SMS

At the forefront of these endeavours is Saturn SMS.

The company was founded in 2006  with the prime purpose of providing safety expertise in both the commercial & military aviation domain and also in the emerging commercial and private spaceflight industry.

They are heavily involved in the development of the fledgling spaceflight industry, working with leading industry partners and carrying out research into the safety criteria and general policy making that will define the development of safe design and safe operations.

The challenge of modelling fire and explosion hazards

Saturn SMS wanted to review the controls they had in place to mitigate the physical effects arising from a wide range of accident events.

Industry guidance was recognised from the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), but Saturn SMS wanted to test this with more specific modelling.

The safety of people and equipment around the launch sites is paramount and they needed to know safe distances, in what is a relatively new field of commercial space transport.

They wanted to ensure they had reduced the accident risk to make it as low as possible.

They were looking:

  • to analyse the consequences of fire and explosion events on personnel and equipment at the launch site using quantitative and qualitative techniques.
  • to determine the potential for fire and explosion event escalation to other hazardous consequences.
  • to identify deficiencies or opportunities for improvement and to make recommendations for measures required to reduce the fire and explosion risks to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable.

Why Saturn SMS chose Marex

Marex was unknown to Saturn SMS but they looked to another sector where safety was key, when operating in hazardous environments: the energy industry.

Our reputation among offshore operators for stringent risk assessments and the development of safety cases meant they knew they could rely on our knowledge and experience.

How Marex responded

We undertook undertake consequence analysis modelling for the fire and explosion hazards associated with operations at a launch site in support of its case for safety.

It was carried out remotely using Phast software, a globally adopted solution for modelling fires, explosions and toxic effects of a wide range of scenarios.

We performed quantitative modelling to support the calculation and presentation of the physical effects from a range of loss of containment events.

Accident events modelled included the following:

  • gas dispersion
  • vapour cloud explosions
  • flash fires
  • fireballs
  • pool fires
  • boiling liquid expanding vapour explosions (BLEVE)

The results


“Saturn SMS approached us for consequence analysis modelling to feed into their safety case application to the Civil Aviation Authority to carry out operations at a space port,” said Neil Smeaton, risk manager and director at Marex.

“For us, it was a diversification into a new field of operations, but also an opportunity to take our wealth of experience and expertise and implement it with the thoroughness and rigour we routinely apply in the oil and gas sector.

“While any catastrophic events are unlikely, in a relatively untested sector it is imperative that there is robust preparation when it comes to making sure the environment is as safe as it can be.”

Want to find out more about how we can give you peace of mind with our risk-based approach that creates operational efficiency, enhanced safety performance and assurance of compliance?

Get in touch now.

Neil Smeaton

Neil Smeaton Risk manager and director

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