NTSB Proposes Codifying Investigative Procedures for Commercial Space Accidents and Incidents


​​​WASHINGTON (Nov. 16, 2021) — The National Transportation Safety Board has proposed codifying its investigative procedures for commercial space accidents and incidents, it announced through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published in the Federal Register Tuesday.

The NPRM notifies regulators, industry stakeholders and the public of the NTSB’s solicitation of comments to its proposed rulemaking to add language on procedures for commercial space investigations in the Code of Federal Regulations. 

“When the NTSB conducted its first commercial space investigation in the early 1990s, that sector was in its infancy,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer L. Homendy. “As commercial space operations have expanded exponentially since then, it’s become increasingly important that when there is an accident or incident, it’s crystal clear to commercial space operators and industry stakeholders what procedures are in place to ensure the integrity of our safety investigation.”

The NTSB’s investigation procedures are contained in Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 831. Subpart A of Part 831 currently includes procedures applicable to every mode of transportation, while Subparts B through E of Part 831 are specific to aviation, highway, railroad, pipeline and hazardous materials, and marine. 

In the NPRM, the NTSB said that commercial space is a “unique mode of transportation,” and although the NTSB’s authority to investigate commercial space accidents stems from federal statute, more detailed procedures addressing the distinct differences from investigations of other modes of transportation is needed in Part 831. The NTSB proposes the addition of Subpart F to clarify “the processes that will be followed by all parties in an NTSB-led commercial space investigation.”

The NPRM includes a discussion of the NTSB’s history of both leading and supporting commercial and noncommercial space launch and reentry investigations over the years, including the 2014 SpaceShipTwo inflight breakup in Mojave, California

The proposed Subpart F includes a reference to the statutory authority of the NTSB to investigate commercial space accidents, notification requirements following an accident or incident, preservation of wreckage and records, relationships with other federal agencies, and the treatment of investigative information.

​The NPRM, “Commercial Space Investigations,” is available online at https://go.usa.gov/xekhk​ (Docket No. NTSB-2021-0008). The NTSB will accept public comments on the NPRM through Jan. 18, 2022.

To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).