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How does a company with no experience in space (like SpaceX or Blue Origin) find out how to safely handle hazardous and flammable fuels?

Are there safety regulations for how to store, handle, and use rocket propellants? Are these published and available to the public?

(I'm looking for an overview, not trying to start my own company off the info in this thread)

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    $\begingroup$ SoRobby, welcome to Space Exploration Stack Exchange! Your question covers a very dense topic, but Hobbes has reworded it so that it can be addressed summarily. You may be interested to know that our Help Center provides guidance on writing topical questions. On that same Help Center page, you should see a list of links to check if you're looking for helpful resources. If what you're looking for isn't on there, or you're not sure where to start, you're welcome to ask for help in chat! $\endgroup$ – called2voyage May 1 '18 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ Each state varies and there's not one code that I am aware of. Some of the codes that are applicable include NFPA 55: Compressed Gases and Cryogenic Fluids Code, NFPA 51: Standard for the Design and Installation of Oxygen–Fuel Gas Systems, NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code - For more details visit: nfpa.org $\endgroup$ – gwally May 2 '18 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ Edited to reduce the scope of the question, if that's okay with you @SoRobby $\endgroup$ – Hobbes May 3 '18 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ SoRobby, I added a couple of references recommended here to our resource list: space.meta.stackexchange.com/a/991/58 $\endgroup$ – called2voyage May 3 '18 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbes excellent edit, happy to see the question reopened! $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 4 '18 at 7:01
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The starting point for handling any potentially hazardous material is the Safety Data Sheet. This is a document (made to a worldwide standard) that details how a material should be handled. The SDS is prepared by the material's manufacturer.

Rocket propellants can be hazardous, and finding out how hazardous exactly isn't the safest job in the world. The book Ignition! gives a good idea of how that worked in the early days of space travel: by trial and error. Small amounts of a new propellant were made and then experimented with: they were exposed to various materials and temperatures, they tried to measure how easy or difficult it would be to ignite etc. Each error was punctuated by an explosion...

The government usually has regulations on handling hazardous materials. In the USA, these are created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA.

In some cases, a company has to find out for itself how a propellant works. For example, SpaceX uses supercooled liquid oxygen, which behaves differently to 'normal' liquid oxygen (which is used at its boiling point). They found that out the hard way when a rocket exploded during a prelaunch test for the AMOS-6 mission: the colder-than-usual oxygen in contact with a helium storage vessel led to the explosion.

Organizations like NASA sometimes publish their experiences with a propellant as a reference for others. Commercial companies are less likely to do that.

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They hire experts trained in the use of those substances, such as the Marine MOS 6074 -- Cryogenics Equipment Operator.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is actually quite a good answer, despite it's brevity. $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 4 '18 at 7:10

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