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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: In collaboration with the commercial space flight industry, continue work to implement a database of lessons learned from commercial space mishap investigations and encourage commercial space industry members to voluntarily submit lessons learned.
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 pursuing several activities to satisfy this recommendation, including having discussions with commercial spaceflight operators who are interested in extending tools developed to improve safety in commercial aviation to commercial space applications. In addition, you briefed the COMSTAC of your goals and plans in this area, and are working with it to implement the recommended program. We further note that you will study the benefits of extending the tools developed for your Aviation Safety Action Program, which is used in commercial aviation, to commercial space applications. Pending completion of the activities that satisfy Safety Recommendation A 15 26, it remains classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
-From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: As noted in our original response, the FAA is pursuing a multi-year, multi-phased approach to enable a voluntary safety data sharing framework for emerging commercial human space flight operations. While the FAA envisions that this may be a lengthy process, we have been actively working the initial elements of the approach and will continue to provide updates to the Board. Also noted in our original response, the FAA recognizes the profound impact voluntary safety data sharing has had in aviation. While implementing a voluntary safety data sharing framework for suborbital human space flight will have its challenges, we believe we can leverage the lessons learned from aviation, along with the concepts and tools that were developed in that arena to work cooperatively with operators to introduce these capabilities while the commercial human space flight industry is still in its nascent stages. We will continue to have bi lateral discussions with operators interested in entering a partnership with the FAA as we work to extend the aviation tools to commercial space applications. In addition, we briefed COMSTAC of our goals and plans in this area on April 28. 2016, and had a favorable reception. We will continue to engage COMST AC as we move forward. As noted earlier in this letter, for the first time in FY 2016, Congress appropriated dedicated funding to develop and implement an applied commercial space transportation RE&D portfolio, providing $1 million for these efforts. The new portfolio will include a project that explores extending the tools developed for the Aviation Safety Action Program to commercial space applications for suborbital human spaceflight vehicles. The FAA is currently finalizing the details of this new project and plans to issue a research task in the coming months. In summary, I believe the FAA has effectively addressed Safety Recommendations A-15-22, -24, and -25 and consider our actions complete. I will keep the Board informed of the FAA's progress on the remaining recommendations and provide an update by November 30, 2017.
We note that you performed an internal feasibility study for voluntary safety data sharing between industry and the FAA that examined data sharing in the commercial aviation industry, and that the results of your study highlighted several challenges that need to be addressed. Among these challenges is the de-identification and protection of proprietary data, creating a non-punitive reporting environment, and the availability of needed data mining and analysis tools to identify safety issues and lessons learned. With the completion of your study you have initiated the following activities: 1. You have requested a research budget line item in your fiscal year 2016 budget for research to examine extending to commercial space flight operations the tools developed in the commercial aviation industry for voluntarily sharing, and the mining of, safety data. 2. You plan to encourage the development and use of SMS by commercial spaceflight manufacturers and operators. This encouragement will include the development and use of programs similar to Flight Operations Quality Assurance and Aviation Safety Action Programs currently used successfully in the commercial aviation industry. 3. You intend to work with Congress to identify any needed legislative reforms necessary to implement the non-punitive reporting and data sharing necessary for the programs identified above. 4. You plan to work with the commercial spaceflight industry on these issues and to discuss these activities and developments at your regular meetings with the industry. Pending completion of these actions, Safety Recommendation A-15-26 is classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
-From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: The FAA supports this recommendation. The FAA takes both the CSLA moratorium, as described in our response to Safety Recommendation A-15-19, and the direction to encourage, facilitate, and promote continuous occupant safety improvements seriously. Recognizing the profound impact that voluntary safety data sharing has had in aviation, the FAA believes that facilitating an appropriate framework for voluntary safety data sharing can also bring significant continuous safety improvements to the emerging commercial human space flight operations. However, the FAA also recognizes that it will likely take a number of years to implement such a framework. As a component of its September 2014 business plan, the FAA performed an internal feasibility study for voluntary safety data sharing between industry members and the FAA. The study examined cooperative data sharing in the aviation industry to identify critical enablers and lessons learned for implementation. The results of that study, completed in August 2015, highlight several challenges that will need to be addressed. These include de-identification and protection of proprietary data, creating a non-punitive environment for voluntary disclosure of safety information, and ensuring the availability of data mining and analysis tools to proactively identify emerging safety issues and lessons learned. These challenges are compounded by the limited amount of operators, operations, and data that will be available in the emerging human CST industry. However, the FAA believes that the nascent nature of this industry also offers the potential to establish such a framework while it is in its formative stages, and we intend to work closely with the industry to mature the concepts and plans outlined below as we pursue its implementation. The study recommended a stepped approach to addressing these challenges, including first examining the modifications to existing tools for data collection, mining, and analysis capabilities. As mentioned in our response to Safety Recommendation A-15-20, the FAA's FY 2016 President's Budget Request proposes to establish a CST safety research budget line. Within the associated portfolio, the FAA intends to conduct research to examine extending the tools developed for voluntarily sharing and mining aviation safety data to commercial human spaceflight operations, so that advanced space flight data mining capabilities could inform safety assessments and identify emerging safety issues and lessons learned. Over recent years the FAA has developed a number of tools to enable aviation industry-FAA sharing and analysis of voluntarily submitted operational safety data to enable operators individually, and the industry and FAA collectively, to identify early precursors to accidents and take proactive action. This research task would explore the ability of AST and the CST industry to leverage these tools and extend their applicability to CST operations. Next, AST will encourage internal company-sponsored SMSs that leverage non-punitive voluntary reporting by flightcrews and operational staff, along with the collection and analysis of detailed operational data. Cooperative programs could be structured that are analogous to aviation Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) and Aviation Safety Action Programs (ASAP). FOQA-type programs use the data collected from each flight, and then aggregate and analyze it to identify and review issues and trends that might only be evident over several flights, while ASAP relies primarily on individuals to identify confusion, errors, or other similar issues that could lead to safety consequences. As was the case with aviation, legislative protections may be required to fully implement the non-punitive environment needed to support these types of programs and the sharing of this type of information with the FAA and others in the industry. The FAA intends to work with Congress as necessary to facilitate any protections that may be required and then flow these protections into the CST regulatory environment. AST will continue work on enabling a voluntary safety data sharing framework over the course of the next year, focusing on suborbital human CST by working closely with our industry stakeholders, collectively and individually, as we move forward. We recently emphasized these issues at our October 2015 CST Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) meeting, and are fortunate to have our Annual FAA CST Conference in February 2016 and May 2016 COMSTAC meeting to further highlight these issues. I will keep the Board informed of the FAA's progress on these safety recommendations and provide an update by October 31, 2016.
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