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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.
TO THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: Implement steps in your evaluation of experimental permit applications to ensure that applicants have (1) identified single flight crew tasks that, if performed incorrectly or at the wrong time, could result in a catastrophic hazard, (2) assessed the reasonableness, including human factor considerations, of the proposed mitigations to prevent errors that could result from performing those tasks, and (3)fully documented the rationale used to justify related assumptions in the hazard analysis required by 14 Code of Federal Regulations 437.55.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Open - Acceptable Response
Koehn Dry Lake, CA, United States
In-Flight Breakup During Test Flight Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo, N339SS Near Koehn Dry Lake, California October 31, 2014
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status:
FAA (Open - Acceptable Response)
Safety Recommendation History
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 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.
We note that you have an active rulemaking project to rewrite the experimental permit regulations in Part 437 because of difficulties in applying the first generation rule, particularly in the hazard analysis requirements. We further note that you are initiating a review of the human factors regulations in Part 460. We support these actions to satisfy Safety Recommendation A 15-20. Pending their completion, the recommendation is classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
-From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: The FAA is examining our response to this recommendation with an emphasis on our public safety-related regulations and guidance. We have an active rulemaking project to rewrite our experimental permit regulations in Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Part 437, due to difficulties in application of the first generation rule, particularly in the hazard analysis requirements. We also are initiating a review of our human factors regulations in 14 CFR Part 460, as well as its related guidance. Our expectation is that, at a minimum, our guidance will be updated and improved. The part 460 regulations may also be updated if we determine this is necessary. All of these regulatory efforts will address the three elements identified in this recommendation. In addition to our regulatory efforts, the FAA's Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 President's Budget Request proposes to establish a CST safety research budget line. If Congress funds this important research portfolio, the FAA intends to launch a research and development project focused on identifying best practice considerations for crew human factors for small winged commercial space flight vehicles. This research project will be instrumental in informing the development of consensus standards and improved regulations and guidance.
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