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CAA UK Government Review of commercial spaceplane certification and operations - Technical report July 2014

In August 2012, the Government tasked the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to undertake a detailed review to understand better the operational requirements of the commercial spaceplane industry. The technical report and summary were released last week and offer the reader and Government an excellent insight in to how this sector might be expected to develop in the years ahead and how the UK should prepare itself to be able to benefit from what will be a crucially important aspect of modern society.

Below are extracts and recommendations from Chapter 12: Medical requirements for spaceplane flight crew and participants.

Development of aviation and space medicine expertise

12.132 As is clear from this Review, specialists in aviation and space medicine will be needed to advise commercial spaceplane companies on all medical aspects of spaceplane design, through to manufacture, equipment, trials and operations. Training and experience in aviation and space medicine will be essential to this process: facilitating and encouraging the training of a cadre of specialists will support the future requirements of operators for advice and medical input.

12.133 Key to this will be the formal recognition of a specialty of aviation and space medicine. This is being progressed at the time of writing. The Department of Health confirmed in July 2012 that the four UK chief medical officers had approved the first stage of application for recognition of training in this specialty, and the second stage is progressing. The training curriculum has been fully developed and, it is anticipated, will be submitted to the General Medical Council (GMC) for approval by mid-2014.

12.134 Governmental, corporate and military support for the aviation and space medicine specialty is essential to ensure sufficient provision of consultant-level expertise in the future for spaceplane operations. Medical input will be needed for the selection, monitoring and medical fitness assessment of flight crew, assessment of participants’ fitness to fly, assessment of the health of other personnel, support for medical emergencies in flight and in the event of emergencies at or near the spaceport.



The Government should lend support to the formal recognition by the General Medical Council of the medical specialty of aviation and space medicine.


12.135 Existing centres of excellence in aviation and space medicine in the UK include: King’s College London (KCL), University College London (UCL), the Royal Air Force Centre of Aviation Medicine (RAF CAM), QinetiQ, the UK Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh and the CAA. Facilities, structure, support, funding and research are subject to the individual objectives of the differing organisations. Hence these vary widely and are not co-ordinated.

12.136 The facilities available and the scale of practice of space medicine in the UK are very small indeed, compared to the facilities available, the volume of research undertaken and the number of employees at DLR, Germany, where the medical screening of astronauts is undertaken for the European Space Agency. Other European centres of aerospace medicine exist, such as the Netherlands National Aerospace Laboratory in Amsterdam. Having dedicated centres of excellence puts these organisations in a prime position to tender for international research in the field of aviation and space medicine.

12.137 The Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences at KCL provides a range of basic, advanced and diploma courses in aviation medicine, a Postgraduate Certificate in Aeromedical Sciences and an MSc course in Aviation Medicine. The diploma course includes teaching from the medical directors of Virgin Galactic and the Red Bull Stratos ‘Edge of Space’ parachute record holder, as well as from the European Space Agency. Science graduates may undertake a Space Physiology and Health MSc course.

12.138 The Centre for Space Medicine at UCL runs an undergraduate course in altitude, space and external environment medicine as a component of its physiology and medical degree courses. It has a particular interest in translating findings from space medicine research into practical applications for clinical medical practice.

12.139 RAF CAM undertakes training in aviation, occupational, environmental and related sciences to support current and future air operations, and has expertise in life support systems, acceleration, escape systems, personal protective equipment testing and aeromedical training.

12.140 QinetiQ is involved in aviation and space medicine research, development, trials and assessment, flight trials and release to service of products. It operates the only long-arm UK centrifuge at Farnborough, as well as altitude (hypobaric), hyperbaric and climatic chambers at Boscombe Down.

12.141 The CAA has a cadre of specialists in aviation and space medicine and authorises several hundred aeromedical examiners (AMEs) who have undertaken training in aviation medicine to conduct medical assessments of pilots and other aviation personnel. With minimal further training, as discussed above, AMEs could undertake medical assessments of spaceplane crew and participants.



The Government should consider funding trainees for the space medicine element of specialist medical training in aviation and space medicine, as no UK employer currently provides this support.



During the development of, and preparation for, initial spaceplane operations, the Government should sponsor and encourage partnerships between UK specialists in aviation medicine who have some (perhaps limited) space experience and practitioners who have international space expertise, to build UK expertise and experience in space medicine.



Medical research

12.142 Increasingly the potential of space research – particularly experiments conducted under microgravity – to provide benefits for terrestrial healthcare is being realised. The radiation and isolation aspects of the space environment can also be exploited to answer physical and life science questions that cannot be investigated on Earth, and several UK universities are undertaking ground-breaking research in this area.

12.143 UK universities are particularly strong in the fields of life science and biomedicine. Sub-orbital spacecraft are being marketed as cheaper platforms to enable experimental work in microgravity for a matter of minutes.

12.144 The potential benefits of experiments conducted in the space environment include:

  • enhancing fundamental knowledge of physics, astrochemistry and biology;
  • increasing understanding of the ageing process, muscle wasting, skin and bone metabolism and repair mechanisms, sleep disturbance, balance disorders, the ability of simple organisms to withstand extreme conditions; and
  • producing and exploring applications for new materials.


12.145 Space biomedical research has improved remote medical monitoring and care, diagnosis and treatment. It has led to the development of precision robotics for use in surgery and to the creation of diagnostic ultrasound technology, while information gained from satellites has helped to address low water supply issues for remote communities. In space, the muscle groups surrounding the spine, the stabiliser muscles, atrophy quickly and significantly. Rehabilitation is required on return from space; however, the methods used to date are sub-optimal. Northumbria University has developed a new technique and a device that appears to rehabilitate stabiliser muscles more effectively than any existing system. Though the initial research focused on astronauts, the findings could potentially be used to provide effective treatment for lower back pain for many more people.

12.146 Clearly, spaceplane operations from the UK would make it easier for UK universities and researchers to conduct space research – an important potential benefit.

12.147 However, there are some important issues to be addressed before this could take place. Space environments research may involve the transport of people to conduct research or may involve research on people flying. Ethical committee approval may need to be granted before some of these experiments are undertaken. Many research councils in the UK are currently unable to accept bids for space research because of their constitution and remit.



The Government should discuss with the Medical Research Council and the national public health services how research in the fields of space medicine and space biomedical science can be developed and encouraged, and how national integration of space medicine research may be achieved.



Taking a strategic approach to space medicine research

12.148 Space medicine research in the UK is fragmented. The UK Space Biomedicine Consortium (UKSBC) has grown out of a student-led association and aims to bring together all parties interested in space biomedicine research. Membership now includes more than 30 organisations and it is supported by the UK Space Agency. The UKSBC has a five-strand strategy:

    • benefit terrestrial healthcare;
    • enhance UK innovation and economic growth;
    • prepare the UK to participate effectively in future human spaceflight activities;
    • benefit/serve the interests of UKSBC members; and
    • contribute to, and benefit from, international collaboration.

12.149 The UK Space Agency also supports a Space Environments Working Group that facilitates work associated with the European Space Agency’s Life and Physical Sciences in Space programme of space research and development. International and commercial collaboration are key to success in this area.

12.150 A national space biomedicine strategy would complement well the Strategy for UK Life Sciences, but has yet to be firmly established. There are many committed space scientists in the UK. A UK strategy supported by government would assist in providing them with organisational resources and support.


The Government should establish a national space biomedicine strategy.



The Government should fund and support an academic institution to act as a central focal point for UK aviation and space medicine research.






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