Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Safety Recommendation Details

Safety Recommendation A-15-019
Synopsis: On October 31, 2014, at 1007:32 Pacific daylight time, the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) reusable suborbital rocket, N339SS, operated by Scaled Composites LLC (Scaled), broke up into multiple pieces during a rocket-powered test flight and impacted terrain over a 5-mile area near Koehn Dry Lake, California. The pilot received serious injuries, and the copilot received fatal injuries. SS2 was destroyed, and no one on the ground was injured as a result of the falling debris. SS2 had been released from its launch vehicle, WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), N348MS, about 13 seconds before the structural breakup. Scaled was operating SS2 under an experimental permit issued by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) according to the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 437.
Recommendation: TO THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: In collaboration with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, develop and issue human factors guidance for operators to use throughout the design and operation of a crewed vehicle. The guidance should address, but not be limited to, the human factors issues identified during the SpaceShipTwo accident investigation.
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Open - Acceptable Response
Mode: Aviation
Location: Koehn Dry Lake, CA, United States
Is Reiterated: No
Is Hazmat: No
Accident #: DCA15MA019
Accident Reports: In-Flight Breakup During Test Flight Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo, N339SS Near Koehn Dry Lake, California October 31, 2014
Report #: AAR-15-02
Accident Date: 10/31/2014
Issue Date: 8/4/2015
Date Closed:
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: FAA (Open - Acceptable Response)

Safety Recommendation History
From: NTSB
Date: 2/10/2017
Response: We note that you are collaborating with CSF and the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) Standards Working Group to develop consensus standards, and that, as part of this work, CSF issued a contract to ASTM International. We further note that you continue to work on your rulemaking project to revise Title 14 CFR Part 437, “Experimental Permits,” particularly focusing on the hazard analysis requirements in section 437.55. In addition, you are currently evaluating the need to revise the regulations addressing human factors contained in Title 14 CFR Part 460. We were pleased to note that Congress appropriated funds in your fiscal year 2016 budget to develop and implement a research and development program for commercial space transportation, and that the new program will include a project for developing human factors best practices. Pending completion of the human factors guidance for operators, Safety Recommendation A-15-19 remains classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE. Pending revisions to Part 437 that address the hazard analysis requirements in section 437.55, and revisions to Part 460 addressing human factors, Safety Recommendation A-15-20 remains classified “Open—Acceptable Response.”

From: FAA
Date: 12/6/2016
Response: -From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is actively addressing these recommendations in a coordinated fashion through our ongoing industry engagement and rulemaking activities. ln collaboration with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMST AC) Standards Working Group, the FAA is supp01ting the development of consensus standards and is encouraged by the progress to date. CSF has informed us that they issued a contract with the American Society for Testing and Materials to assist with standards development and the FAA intends to fully support these activities. We believe there is also a strong role for voluntary consensus standards as an acceptable means of compliance to FAA regulations. With regard to the regulations, as previously noted, the FAA is engaged in an active rulemaking project for Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Part 437, Experimental Permits, with particular focus on its hazard analysis requirements (§ 437.55). In addition, the FAA is currently assessing the need for new rulemaking to address the human factor regulations contained in 14 CFR Part 460. The review is ongoing, but at a minimum we expect to provide improved guidance material to industry. For the first time in Fiscal Year (FY) 20 16, Congress appropriated dedicated funding to develop and implement an applied Commercial Space Transportation Research, Engineering, and Development (RE&O) portfolio, providing $1 million for these efforts. The new portfolio will include a project that will support the development of standards and new regulatory guidance by identifying the best practice considerations associated with crew human factors for small, winged commercial space flight vehicles. The FAA is currently finalizing the details of this new project and plans to issue a research task in the coming months.

From: NTSB
Date: 1/11/2016
Response: We note that you believe your August 2014 report, titled “Recommended Practices for Human Space Flight Occupant Safety,” which we reviewed as part of our investigation of the SpaceShipTwo accident, provides recommended practices. You believe this guidance is general in nature and that it forms a starting point for the development of consensus industry standards. We further note that, in collaboration with the CSF, you are developing a plan to satisfy this recommendation. Pending completion of the recommended guidance, Safety Recommendation A-15-19 is classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: FAA
Date: 10/30/2015
Response: -From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: Under the provisions of the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA) (Public Law 98-575), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates commercial space transportation (CST) to protect the public health and safety, the safety of property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. In amending the CSLA in 2004, Congress placed a moratorium that prohibited the FAA from issuing regulations that protect occupant safety. In crafting the moratorium and the "learning period" that it represents for industry, Congress also tasked the FAA to "encourage, facilitate, and promote the continuous improvement of the safety of launch vehicles designed to carry humans." The moratorium, which was extended in 2015, is slated to expire on March 31 , 2016. However, both the House and Senate have passed bills in 2015 that would extend the moratorium by 5 to 10 years, and the negotiated bill language between the two Chambers extends the moratorium by 8 years. The FAA takes both the moratorium and the direction to encourage, facilitate, and promote continuous occupant safety improvements seriously, and these considerations factor heavily into our response to this recommendation. In recognition of our authorized public safety mission and our responsibility to encourage, facilitate, and promote continuous occupant safety improvements for emerging commercial human space transportation vehicles and their operations, in August 20 I 4, the FAA issued the "Recommended Practices for Human Space Flight Occupant Safety" guidance document to provide an overview of best practice considerations that the FAA believes are important for the commercial space industry. This document is available at the following website: org/headquarters offices/ast/media/Recommended Practices_ for_ HSF Occupant_ Safety-Version 1-TC 14-003 7. pdf These best practice considerations are based on decades of U.S. and international experience in human space flight and vehicle design. The recommended practices are general in nature and do not lay out a prescriptive approach for occupant safety. The FAA believes that they form an excellent starting point for the development of consensus industry standards. For example, in considering inadvertent crew actions, the recommendation that "no single inadvertent flight crew or ground controller action should result in an event causing serious injuries to occupants," and its supporting rationale could serve as a springboard for developing a coordinated response to this recommendation between industry and the FAA. The FAA agrees with this recommendation, and has reached out to the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) discussing a plan to develop a coordinated response. We will continue to engage the CSF and its members over the coming months.