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General Aviation Safety
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: Develop and implement procedures and guidance for confirming that commercial space operators are implementing the mitigations identified in a safety-related waiver of federal regulations and work with the operators to determine the effectiveness of those mitigations that correspond to hazards contributing to catastrophic outcomes.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Closed - Acceptable Action
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 (Closed - Acceptable Action)
Safety Recommendation History
We note that, on September 28, 2015, you revised your internal procedure P-008, “Safety Inspection Processes and Procedures,” to address this recommendation, and that after this revision, you trained your staff on the updates. These actions satisfy Safety Recommendation A-15-22, which is classified CLOSED—ACCEPTABLE ACTION.
-From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: In our previous response, we noted that two additional actions were required to complete the FAA's response to this recommendation. The FAA committed to incorporating the revised working relationships that were outlined in our initial response into our P-008 document, Safety Inspection Processes and Procedures, and related training. With the subsequent September 28, 2015, update to P-008, and the official notification and training of all safety inspection staff, the FAA has successfully completed these actions.
We note that, within your Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), the Licensing and Evaluation Division and the Safety Inspection Division (SID) have defined new working arrangements to ensure that the provisions or mitigations contained in waivers are identified and included into the appropriate safety inspection plans (SIP). In addition, the SID will query all other AST divisions for any outstanding or specific items that may require monitoring or verification during safety inspections. We further note that the SID has added a step to review and record such topics into the pre-existing pre-inspection checklist allowing safety inspectors (SIs) to include applicable verifications into the SIP. You plan to add these revised working arrangements to your Safety Inspection Processes and Procedures document (P 008), and to incorporate the revised working arrangements into your P 008 training course. Pending completion of the revisions to the P-008 document, and the P-008 training course, Safety Recommendation A-15-22 is classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
-From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: The FAA may only issue waivers to the regulatory requirements for CST licenses and permits if the FAA determines that public safety is protected and that the waiver is in the public's interest. Within the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), the Licensing and Evaluation Division and the Safety Inspection Division (SID) have defined new working arrangements to ensure that the contents (provisions or mitigations) of waivers are identified and transitioned as appropriate into respective safety inspection plans. Also, to identify additional unknown issues, special conditions, or mitigations, the SID will query all AST divisions for any outstanding or specific items that may require monitoring or verification during its safety inspection pre-brief meeting, which is conducted prior to safety monitoring. The SID has added a step to review and record such topics into the pre-existing pre-inspection checklist discussed during the meeting. This allows safety inspectors (Sis) to readily include applicable verifications into the safety inspection plan. These revised working arrangements will be described and added to the Safety Inspection Processes and Procedures document (P-008), and they will also be incorporated into our P-008 training course over the coming months. It is important to note that the waiver issued to Scaled Composites for SpaceShipTwo was a direct result of the FAA's inability to issue an equivalent level of safety finding under the provisions of part 437. Scaled Composites applied the methods associated with transport airplane system safety certification to its experimental permit hazard analysis, and the FAA considered this analysis to be sufficiently rigorous to protect public safety. However, unlike parts 415 and 417 for launch licensing, part 43 7 does not include the ability to incorporate an equivalent level of safety finding. This made a waiver necessary. The FAA is engaged in rulemaking that will extend its ability to make equivalent level of safety findings, which is a critical need due to the diverse range of products and concepts that are emerging in the commercial space flight industry.
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