Tag: NTSB

Character, Candor & Competence: Lessons From the SpaceShipTwo Crash

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SpaceShipTwo right boom wreckage. (Credit: NTSB)

SpaceShipTwo right boom wreckage. (Credit: NTSB)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

One of the most interesting aspects of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the SpaceShipTwo crash was how it pulled back the curtain on what was actually going on in the program being undertaken in Mojave. Over the years, the rhetoric has been frequently at odds with reality.

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FAA AST Responds to NTSB Recommendations in SpaceShipTwo Accident Report

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SpaceShipTwo's right boom. (Credit: NTSB)

SpaceShipTwo’s right boom. (Credit: NTSB)

The Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) has submitted formal responses to the eight recommendations the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made in its report on the loss of SpaceShipTwo in October 2014.

All the responses are dated Oct. 30, 2015 — one day short of the one year anniversary of the crash. The responses are all identified as being from FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta.

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Shock, Tears & Spin: The Aftermath of the SpaceShipTwo Crash

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SpaceShipTwo's right boom. (Credit: NTSB)

SpaceShipTwo’s right boom. (Credit: NTSB)

Part 5 in a Series

In his autobiography, Chuck Yeager dismissed Tom Wolfe’s “right stuff” as a meaningless phrase for describing a pilot’s attributes. Good pilots are not born, they are made. Yeager attributed his success to a combination of natural abilities (good coordination, excellent eyesight, intuitive understanding of machinery, coolness under pressure) and good old-fashioned hard work. He worked his tail off learning how to fly, learned everything he could about the aircraft he flew, and spent more time flying them than anyone else.

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Pete Siebold’s Harrowing Descent

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SpaceShipTwo breaks up in flight. (Credit: Brandon Wood/NTSB)

SpaceShipTwo breaks up in flight. At the upper left, the main fuselage without its tail booms continues to vent nitrous oxide while in an inverted flat spin. The crew cabin is tumbling in the lower right of the photo. (Credit: Brandon Wood/NTSB)

Part 4 in a Series

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

As far as C.J. Sturckow could tell, everything was going perfectly. Flying an Extra plane at 14,000 feet above Koehn Lake, he and photographer Mark Greenberg watched SpaceShipTwo drop cleanly from WhiteKnightTwo and light its engine. The rocket ignition was “beautiful,” the plume color looked fine, the ship’s trajectory appeared to be right on the mark. And then–

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The Breakup of SpaceShipTwo Frame by Frame From the Tail Boom

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Engine start on SpaceShipTwo.(Credit: Scaled Composites/NTSB)

Engine start on SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Scaled Composites/NTSB)

Part 3.2 in a Series

The following sequence is extracted from a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) document about the loss of SpaceShipTwo last October. The images show the breakup of the vehicle from a camera on one of the tail booms. The premature unlocking of the feather mechanism resulted in aerodynamic pressures deploying the movable tail booms during powered ascent.

NTSB experts did the annotation on the photos and the narrative that accompanies the images. The sequence spans 3 seconds.

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A Good Light, Then a Fatal Mistake

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WhiteKnightTwo takes off carrying SpaceShipTwo on its final flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

WhiteKnightTwo takes off carrying SpaceShipTwo on its final flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Part 3 in a Series

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With World War II-era structures still dotting its flight line and industrial park, the Mojave Air and Space Port sometimes reminds visitors of the training base where Marine Corps fighter pilots learned to fly 70 years earlier. Just beyond the airport’s three runways is a giant boneyard full of scrapped 747s and other aircraft that would not look all that out of place to a time traveler who ventured forward from 30 or 40 years ago.

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SpaceShipTwo Pilots Faced Extremely High Work Loads

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Pre-sunrise checks on WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the runway at the Mojave Air and Spaceport. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Pre-sunrise checks on WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the runway at the Mojave Air and Spaceport before powered flight 3. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 2 in a Series

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Mojave Air and Spaceport sits on 3,300 acres of California’s High Desert about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Since it opened in 1935, the facility had seen multiple uses – rural airfield for the mining industry, World War II Marines Corps training base, U.S. Navy air station and general aviation airport.

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SpaceShipTwo Nearly Crashed in 2011

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

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

Ship Entered Inverted Flat Spin
Officials Downplayed Incident at Time
Near Disaster Cancelled Glide Flight at Spaceport America

The SpaceShipTwo vehicle that crashed one year ago nearly met its end three years earlier during a hair-raising flight test that officials at builder Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic downplayed at the time, according to documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

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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).

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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.

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Executive Summary of Scaled Composites Submission to NTSB

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ss2_debris_fuselage1

SpaceShipTwo fuselage (Credit: NTSB)

Submission to NTSB by Scaled Composites
Regarding the October 31, 2014
SpaceShipTwo Accident

(DCA15MA019)
May 29, 2015

Full Submission

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Scaled Composites (Scaled) is an aerospace and specialty composites development company located in Mojave, California. Since its founding by Burt Rutan thirty-three years ago, Scaled has successfully designed, built, and flight tested over 30 unique manned aircraft and spacecraft for the United States Government, national defense contractors, and other commercial customers. Scaled specializes in unique aircraft design, rapid prototyping, and flight testing. Scaled focuses on developing proof-of-concept aircraft using novel and creative approaches to solve difficult technical challenges presented by its customers.

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Virgin Galactic’s Modifications to SpaceShipTwo

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SpaceShipTwo fuselage. (Credit: NTSB)

SpaceShipTwo fuselage. (Credit: NTSB)

On July 11, Virgin Galactic submitted information to the National Transportation Safety Board about how it planned to address issues raised by the crash of SpaceShipTwo last October. The recommendations and their status are reproduced below.

VG’s Post-Accident Recommendations

1) Modify the SpaceShipTwo feather lock system with an automatic mechanical inhibit to prevent unlocking or locking the feather locks during safety-critical phases of flight.

Status: Completed by VG

2) Add to the SpaceShipTwo Normal Procedures checklist and Pilot’s Operating Handbook an explicit warning about the consequences of prematurely unlocking the feather lock.

Status: Completed by VG

3) Implement a comprehensive Crew Resource Management (CRM) approach to all future Virgin
Galactic SpaceShipTwo operations in a manner consistent with the pre-existing CRM program VG has employed for WK2 operations. This includes, as a minimum:

  • Standardized procedures and call outs
  • Challenge/response protocol for all safety-critical aircrew actions, to include feather lock handle movement
  • Formalized CRM training

Status: Completed by VG

4) Conduct a comprehensive internal safety review of all SpaceShipTwo systems to identify and eliminate any single-point human performance actions that could result in a catastrophic event.

Status: An initial assessment was completed and modifications to SS2-002 are in progress. Virgin Galactic will continually evaluate and improve System Safety throughout SpaceShipTwo’s lifecycle.

5) Conduct a comprehensive external safety review of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company’s engineering, flight test and operations as well as SpaceShipTwo itself.

Status: Initial Assessment Completed. The external review team will review the program both prior to commencement of flight test activities as well as prior to entering commercial service.

6) Ensure Virgin Galactic employs pilots who meet or exceed the highest standards and possess a depth and breadth of experience in high performance fighter-type aircraft and/or spacecraft. Minimum VG qualifications during the flight test program shall be:

  • A long course graduate of a recognized test pilot school with a minimum of 2.5 years post-graduation experience in the flight test of high performance, military turbojet aircraft and/or spacecraft.
  • A minimum of 1000 hours pilot in command of high performance, military turbojet aircraft.
  • Experience in multiengine non-centerline thrust aircraft
  • Experience in multi-place, crewed aircraft and/or spacecraft

These criteria are based on industry best practices for flight testing, using DCMA INST 8210.1C, paragraph 4.3 as guidance.

Status: Completed. All current Virgin Galactic pilots exceed the above minimum VG standards.

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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