The two main House Republicans who oversee commercial space activities are challenging new action by the National Transportation Safety Board to exercise more authority in commercial space accident investigations. In a letter to the NTSB, they requested more information and Representative Brian Babin introduced a resolution stating that commercial space launch is a development activity, not a mode of transportation.
In the letter to the President of the NTSB, Jennifer Homendy, Babin and Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) said that “attempts by the Council to expand its authority would change the process of investigating long-standing commercial space accidents. and would have a significant impact on the commercial space launch industry in the United States. economic competitiveness, scientific discovery, space exploration, international cooperation, national security and safety.
The NTSB’s regulatory proposal notice was published in the Federal Register on Tuesday. He proposes to add a new subpart to the existing NTSB authorities to investigate accidents under Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 831 to clarify “the processes that will be followed by all parties in a space investigation. commercial led by the NTSB “. The public comment period is open until January 18, 2022.
The NTSB’s investigation into the SpaceShipTwo crash on a test flight in 2014 that killed Co-pilot Michael Alsbury and injured pilot Peter Siebold is possibly the best-known case of the Council’s involvement in a space launch. commercial. There were others, but very few.
NPRM refers to launch and re-entry into the commercial space as a “mode of transportation”.
“The agency notes that the commercial space industry is a unique mode of transportation and that the needs for investigating a commercial space accident and incident, such as reporting commercial space accidents and incidents and maintaining wrecks, evidence and records, are distinct enough to warrant its own subpart. Thus, the NTSB proposes the addition of Subpart F for commercial space surveys.
Lucas and Babin disagree. Babin introduced a House resolution to “declare that space launch is a development activity, not a form of transportation, and that a process exists to investigate commercial re-entry activities.” “
A House resolution is not a bill that becomes law. If passed, it would apply only to the House, expressing its collective sentiment.
Lucas and Babin went to great lengths in the letter, resolution, and press release to outline the competence of the House SS&T committee over launch and re-entry activities in the U.S. commercial space, citing precedents and House rules. While not specified, it may relate as much to the House committee that has jurisdiction over how commercial space launch accidents are investigated as to the NTSB proposal itself.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) committee, which oversees the FAA and NTSB, also claims jurisdiction over commercial space transportation. At a hearing earlier this year, Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Rick Larsen (D-WA) said “we don’t think we have jurisdiction over space, but you have to go through the ‘airspace to get to space – what I like to think of as’ our space’ to go to space. Committee of the Whole Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has expressed his intention to completely review the way the FAA regulates the industry, especially its dual role of regulator and facilitator. But the role of the NTSB was not mentioned during this hearing.
Babin is a member of both committees.
Federation of Commercial Spaceflight President Karina Drees told SpacePolicyOnline.com by email that she looked forward to continuing the dialogue with stakeholders on safety, noting that the current regulatory structure has a “record. perfect when it comes to protecting public safety ”.
“The FSB welcomes this conversation and the recognition that the current regulatory structure governing commercial spaceflight has a perfect record of protecting public safety while providing critical civil, commercial and national security capabilities. Safety is the industry’s top priority, and we work every day to constantly innovate
towards better performance. We look forward to continuing this dialogue with stakeholders.