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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: Develop and issue guidance for experimental permit applicants that (1) includes the information in Advisory Circular 413-1, “License Application Procedures,” and(2) encourages commercial space vehicle manufacturers to begin the consultation process with the Office of Commercial Space Transportation during a vehicle’s design phase.
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 the COMSTAC’s Operations Working Group is currently reviewing your AC 413 1 draft revisions. Pending issuance of AC 413-1 revisions that satisfy Safety Recommendation A-15-23, it remains classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
-From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: The FAA is actively taking steps to make pre-application consultation even more effective, which will benefit both the operator and the FAA. In addition to issuing the P-0 11 document, Pre-Application Consultation Process, in March 2015, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) developed and issued compliance checklists for applicant use in October 2015. These checklists facilitate the rapid and efficient summary of applicable requirements and the corresponding means of compliance. In addition, the development of a new Advisory Circular (AC) that will replace AC 4 13-l is well underway. The new AC is intended to provide a flexible and efficient means to meet the pre-application coordination goals and requirements of 14 CFR § 413.5. The FAA intends to seek stakeholder comments on the draft AC and is on track to do so before the end of Calendar Year 2016.
We note that you issued Procedure P-011, “Pre-application Consultation Process,” an internal procedure to guide AST staff in the conduct of pre application consultation with applicants for licenses, safety approvals, and experimental permits issued by AST. We further note that, as part of a review that you conducted of all of your commercial spaceflight regulatory guidance, including AC 413-1, you developed a plan for revising these documents, and that you plan to use the pre-application consultation procedure, with references to the checklists and other guidance, as the basis for issuing a new AC that will replace AC 413-1. This new AC will outline a means of compliance with Part 413.5, “Pre-application Consultation.” Pending issuance of the new AC, Safety Recommendation A-15-23 is classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
-From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: The FAA agrees that an early and robust pre-application consultation process is beneficial to both the applicant and the FAA. Robust pre-application consultation provides an opportunity to highlight novel and unique features of a new vehicle or its operational concepts, and it ensures the applicant has the guidance and clarification necessary to submit a complete application that meets the associated regulations. As a component of its September 2014 business plan, AST issued an internal procedure to guide its staff in the conduct of pre-application consultation with potential applicants for licenses, safety approvals, and experimental permits. Procedure P-01 1, Pre-application Consultation Process, was completed in March 2015 and shared with Board staff during the course of the investigation. The FAA conducts pre-application consultation with prospective applicants to enable a more effective and complete application. Pre-application consultation is a series of meetings and information exchanges appropriately seeped and executed based on the maturity and understanding of the prospective applicant and the unique features of the proposed application. Pre-application consultations are conducted through specific stages designed to allow both the applicant and the FAA to gain a mutual understanding of the proposed vehicle and its operation, enable the applicant to gain a thorough understanding of the applicable CST regulations and their associated policies and acceptable means of compliance, and to identify and resolve any other potential issues that could affect the applicant's ability to develop a license or experimental permit application that can be accepted for review. Additionally, in an effort to facilitate a more efficient review, evaluation, and approval process, AST has developed checklists as a supplement to the pre-application process. These checklists are available to assist applicants in developing a comprehensive, compliant, and complete application for FAA review and approval. The organizational format of the checklists is specifically intended to facilitate a rapid, efficient summary of the applicable regulatory requirements with the corresponding means of compliance that will be used by the applicant. Further, the FAA has reviewed all CST regulatory guidance material, including Advisory Circular (AC) 413-1 , "License Application Procedures," for currency and completeness and has developed a prioritized plan for revising these documents. The FAA intends to use the framework of the pre-application consultation procedure, with references to the checklists and other guidance material, as the basis for issuing a new AC that will replace AC 413-1. This new AC will outline a means, but not the only means, of compliance with § 4 13 .5, Pre-application Consultation, and we have included this in our 2016 business plan. With the updated guidance materials, checklists, and the pre-application consultation procedures, the FAA is in a position to offer a more robust, early pre-application consultation.
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