Branson Still Doesn’t Really Understand Why SpaceShipTwo Crashed

SpaceShipTwo breaks up. (Credit: NTSB)

Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson was interviewed for the Jan. 30 edition of NPR’s “How I Built This” podcast. Beginning at 25:44, there’s a brief discussion of the October 2014 crash that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed co-pilot Mike Alsbury.

Branson recalls that for the first 12 hours after the accident he wasn’t sure if the SpaceShipTwo program would continue. “But, once we realized it was a pilot error and not a technical error, I was able to tell all the engineers it was nothing to do with them. And that the basic craft was sound.”

Alas, most of this explanation is wrong.

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White House Announces $110 Million in New Smallsat Investments

Spacecraft specialists prepare spacecraft to perform the Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN) mission. (Credit: NASA Ames Research Center)
Spacecraft specialists prepare spacecraft to perform the Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN) mission. (Credit: NASA Ames Research Center)

Federal Agencies announce more than $100 million in new investments to develop small satellite systems and technology.

by Thomas Kalil
Deputy Director for Policy
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

This past October, the White House announced the “Harnessing the Small Satellite Revolution” initiative. As part of the initiative, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and other Federal agencies identified multiple opportunities to encourage both government and private sector use of small spacecraft for a variety of applications, some of which were showcased at The White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh.

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FAA Awards Operator License to Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

MOJAVE, Calif., August 1 2016 (Virgin Galactic) — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) has awarded Virgin Galactic an operating license for SpaceShipTwo.

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GAO: FAA Faces Challenges With Commercial Space Oversight

faa_logoCommercial Space:
Industry Developments and FAA Challenges
Government Accountability Office
Testimony (PDF)
GAO-16-765T
Published: Jun 22, 2016

Why GAO Did This Study

The U.S. commercial space launch industry has changed considerably since the enactment of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004. FAA is required to license or permit commercial space launches; however, to allow space tourism to develop, the act prohibited FAA from regulating crew and spaceflight participant safety before 2012—a moratorium that was extended to 2023. The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, enacted in November 2015, addressed other aspects of the commercial space launch industry.

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FAA Oversight of Commercial Space Transportation Hearing Video

The House Subcommittee on Aviation held its first hearing in seven years on the FAA’s oversight of commercial space last month. Members heard from a heavily industry-centric panel of experts who largely praised the moratorium on regulations that is in place until 2023.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s scathing criticism of the FAA’s oversight role on SpaceShipTwo prior to the accident was briefly discussed on a couple of occasions, as were the potential conflicts between FAA’s dual roles of oversight and promotion.

Taber MacCallum of World View Enterprises dismissed the criticism of FAA Associate Administrator George Nield and the FAA’s performance prior to the crash as Monday morning quarterbacking. He also called for a permanent extension of the moratorium on regulations.

Michael López-Alegría also claimed that the FAA had done its job properly. He dismissed the idea that regulating the industry would make it any safer.

Witness List:

  • Dr. George C. Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration | Written Testimony
  • Dr. Gerald L. Dillingham, Director of Civil Aviation Issues, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Michael Gold, Chair, Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Michael López-Alegría, Vice Chair, Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Taber MacCallum, Chief Technology Officer, World View Enterprises | Written Testimony

 

Patti Grace Smith Has Passed Away

In her role at FAA, Patti Grace Smith was involved in granting a spaceport license to Mojave Airport and approvals for SpaceShipOne to conduct its test flights in 2003-04. She was a real pioneer in promoting commercial space in the United States.

NSRC Day 3 Summary

Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems' Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)
Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems’ Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference finished up today in Colorado. There were provider presentations from Masten Space Systems and Virgin Galactic. Three researchers also presented results from suborbital microgravity flights.

Below are summaries of the sessions based on Tweets.
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NSRC Day 2 Summary

SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser ETA. (Credit: SNC)
SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser ETA. (Credit: SNC)

The second day of the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference took place in Colorado on Friday. Although I wasn’t able to attend, I have compiled highlights via Twitter posts. (You can follow along with hashtag #nsrc2016.)

Below is a summary of updates that cover Sierra Nevada Corporation, Cecil Airport, Spaceport Colorado, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, World View Enterprises, NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

There was a presentation by Charles Walker, who was the first person to perform commercial experiments in space as a payload specialist on three space shuttle missions.

A separate panel discussion on human-tended space research reached the unsurprising consensus that government should lift its ban on sending scientists into space with their experiments.

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FAA AST Budget: A Million Here, A Million There

faa_logoUPDATE: The commmitttee approved an amendment bringing the budget up to $19.826, which is what the Administration requested.

The House Appropriations Committee has recommended $18.826 million for the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) for FY 2017, which is $1 million below the Obama Administration’s budget request.

The amount is $1 million above the enacted level for FY 2016.

“The recommended funding level will allow the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to add operational personnel to support an increased level of activity in its licensing, permitting and safety inspection functions,” the committee said in draft bill to be marked up on Tuesday.

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Moon Express Asks FAA to Conduct Payload Review for Lunar Mission

Moon Express MX-1 spacecraft orbits the Moon in preparation for landing. MX-1 will deliver commercial, academic and government instruments to explore the Moon for science and resources. (Credit: Moon Express)
Moon Express MX-1 spacecraft orbits the Moon in preparation for landing. MX-1 will deliver commercial, academic and government instruments to explore the Moon for science and resources. (Credit: Moon Express)

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2016 (Moon Express PR) — Today, Moon Express made history as the first private space company to request the U.S government to conduct a payload review of its spacecraft and plans leading to regulatory approval of a commercial mission to the Moon in 2017. Moon Express initiated the review process through a submission to the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST), bringing the company another important step closer to the Moon.

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Commercial Human Spaceflight Industry Lightly Regulated

faa_logoPart 4 of 6

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

U.S. regulations for commercial human spaceflight give the wide latitude to develop and fly their launch systems while providing substantial protections about being sued for injuries and deaths resulting from accidents. What follows is is a brief summary of the provisions, most of which have been in place since December 2004.
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Early Aviation & the Safety of Space Tourism

Crashed Boeing Model 299 at Wright Field, Ohio in 1934.
Crashed Boeing Model 299 at Wright Field, Ohio in 1934.

Part 2 of 6

“I question whether our insatiable appetite for total safety is serving the needs of the exploring human inside us.”

– Stu Witt, former CEO & General Manager, Mojave Air & Space Port

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After he won the $10 million Ansari X Prize with SpaceShipOne in October 2004, Scaled Composites Founder Burt Rutan had two goals for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle he was building for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

He vowed the vehicle would be at least 100 times safer than any human spacecraft that had ever flow. And the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would certify the spaceship in a manner similar to way the agency certifies aircraft.

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