Tag: FAA

SpaceShipTwo: Lessons Learned on the Commercial Space Frontier

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SpaceShipTwo disintegrates as its two tail booms fall away. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

SpaceShipTwo disintegrates as its two tail booms fall away. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

SpaceShipTwo had exploded.

At least that’s what it looked like from our vantage point at Jawbone Station on that fateful Halloween morning ten months ago. And that’s what it looked like in Ken Brown’s photos. Ken had been standing next to me, training his telephoto lens on the small spacecraft nine miles overhead.

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Key Excerpts From Scaled Composites Submission to NTSB — Part II

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Removal of SpaceShipTwo debris. (Credit: NTSB)

Removal of SpaceShipTwo debris. (Credit: NTSB)

Editor’s Note: What follows are key excerpts from Scaled Composites 43-page submission to the National Transportation Safety Board concerning the crash of the first SpaceShipTwo last October. These excerpts relate to Scaled Composites evaluation of hazards created by human and software errors the company’s comments on the waiver issued by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation concerning these hazards.

Scaled Composites
Regarding the October 31, 2014
SpaceShipTwo Accident

(DCA15MA019)
May 29, 2015

Full Submission

VI. Scaled’s Robust Safety Processes and Culture

C. Scaled’s Evaluation of Hazards Created by Human Error and Software Error

Scaled’s SSA endeavored to address all potential hazards, including the risk of human error, in accordance with FAA guidance. Scaled’s FTA analyzed the possibility of human error in responding to functional hazards. In other words, should a certain function fail, Scaled considered whether the flight crew could respond correctly. Relying on the SSA Advisory Circular, Scaled assumed that standard pilot tasks would be performed correctly. In conformance with applicable guidance in the SSA Advisory Circular which recognizes that it is difficult to quantify the risk that test pilots will not conduct reasonable operations pursuant to procedure and to their training, Scaled’s FHA and FTA did not separately analyze functional hazards initiated by human error. These analyses did not consider, for example, routine pilot tasks (e.g., deploying the landing gear) being performed incorrectly (e.g., at an inappropriate time such as mid-flight).

Continue reading ‘Key Excerpts From Scaled Composites Submission to NTSB — Part II’

Key Excerpts From Scaled Composites Submission to NTSB — Part I

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SpaceShipTwo, ready for its closeup. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

SpaceShipTwo, ready for its closeup. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Editor’s Note: What follows are key excerpts from Scaled Composites 43-page submission to the National Transportation Safety Board concerning the crash of the first SpaceShipTwo last October. These excerpts relate to the feather system whose premature unlocking and deployment caused the accident.

Scaled Composites
Regarding the October 31, 2014
SpaceShipTwo Accident

(DCA15MA019)
May 29, 2015

Full Submission

IV. SpaceShipTwo, and in Particular its Feather System, was Carefully Designed, Tested, and Maintained

A. SS2’s Design

SS2, which evolved from the SS1 program, was carefully designed based on years of intensive research, analysis, and testing in an attempt to meet Virgin Galactic’s performance and schedule requirements. The design utilized simple, robust systems to limit potential failure modes. SS2’s systems were tested on over 50 flight tests prior to the October 31 test flight, including three prior rocket-powered flights, and they performed as they were designed to perform.

Continue reading ‘Key Excerpts From Scaled Composites Submission to NTSB — Part I’

Virgin Galactic Misled Ticket Holders, Public on Complexity of Engine Change

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RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

When Virgin Galactic announced it was switching from the nitrous oxide/rubber rocket engine they had flown on SpaceShipTwo three times to one powered by nitrous oxide and nylon, company officials told ticket holders and the public the change involved only minor modifications to Richard Branson’s space tourism vehicle.

A document released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board directly contradicts that claim. In  it, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety expert describing his concern over “major modifications” that had been made in the suborbital space plane to accommodate the new engine.

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Experts: FAA Review Process for SpaceShipTwo Flawed, Subject to Political Pressure

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SpaceShipTwo fuselage (Credit: NTSB)

SpaceShipTwo fuselage (Credit: NTSB)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration issued an experimental permit to Scaled Composites to begin flight tests of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in 2012 despite serious deficiencies in the company’s application relating to safety analysis and risk mitigation, according to documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) this week.

When renewing the annual permit in 2013 and 2014, the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) issued waivers that exempted Scaled Composites from explaining how it evaluated and planned to mitigate against human and software errors that could cause a fatal accident.

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Branson’s Video Statement on NTSB Findings

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NTSB Findings, Probable Cause and Safety Recommendations

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Part of SpaceShipTwo's fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part of SpaceShipTwo’s fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Editor’s Note: The NTSB’s official statement is here.  It’s clearer and more polished than the one below.

The NTSB approved probable cause, findings and safety recommendations regarding the crash of SpaceShipTwo during a flight test on Oct. 31, 2014. The following is based on a real-time transcript, so there may be some minor errors.

Probable Cause

Scaled Composite’s failure to consider and protect against the possibility that a single human error could result in a catastrophic hazard. This failure set the stage for the copilot’s premature unlocking of the feather system as a result of time pressure and vibration and loads that he had not recently experienced.

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FAA Waiver for SpaceShipTwo Hazard Analysis

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faa_logoDEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation

Waiver of 14 CFR 437.29 and 437.55(a) for Scaled Composites, LLC

AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DOT.

ACTION: Notice of waiver.

SUMMARY: This notice concerns a waiver to Scaled Composites, LLC (Scaled) from the requirements of 14 CFR 437.29 and 437.55(a) to provide the FAA a hazard analysis that identifies, mitigates, and verifies and validates mitigation measures for hazards created by software and human error. The FAA finds that a waiver is in the public interest and will not jeopardize public health and safety, safety of property, and national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.

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SpaceX’s Philosophy: Reliability Through Continual Upgrades

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falcon9_debris

Remains of a Falcon 9 rocket fall to Earth.

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

To succeed in the launch business, you need to be very, very good and more than a little bit lucky. Eventually, there comes a day when you are neither.

That is what happened to SpaceX on June 28. A string of 18 successful Falcon 9 launches was snapped as the company’s latest rocket broke up in the clear blues skies over the Atlantic Ocean. A Dragon supply ship headed for the International Space Station was lost, SpaceX’s crowded manifest was thrown into confusion, and the company’s reputation for reliability was shattered.

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CSF Praises Modest Increase in FAA AST Budget

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faa_logoWASHINGTON, D.C. (CSF PR) — Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Bill. The Bill provides $17.425 million for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, $2 million for Commercial Space Transportation Safety, and $2 million for Facilities and Equipment to better integrate Commercial Space Traffic with the National Airspace System.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) ensures that commercial launch and reentry activities are conducted without additional risk to the public or adjacent property, and that the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States are protected. While the Senate’s THUD Appropriations Bill doesn’t fund all of the requested increase in AST funding, it should ensure that AST can diligently process commercial space licenses and permits in a timely manner, without having to prioritize some applications over others, and thereby potentially delay some launches.

There were nine licensed or permitted Commercial Launches in FY 2015, and five Commercial Reentries. Each launch and reentry requires careful analysis of systems and trajectories, and coordination with air traffic to ensure public safety. Research into improved safety methods, and funding to improve facilities and equipment will streamline some activities and automate others. These are critical improvements as both space and air traffic volume increase. In addition to the FAA AST’s licensing and permit responsibilities, the Office also has oversight support responsibilities related to launch accident investigations.

“CSF applauds the Senate Appropriations Committee, and especially subcommittee leaders Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI) for supporting the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation in a time of unprecedented activity,” said CSF President Eric Stallmer. “We also want to especially thank Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) for helping ensure that the FAA has the resources necessary to be a reliable and responsible partner in the economic development of space. CSF looks forward to continuing to work with Senate and House Appropriators to maintain the Senate’s number or even achieve the full budget request as they complete the FY 2016 appropriations process.”