NTSB to review FAA oversight in Virgin Galactic crash
11/05/2014|6:31:25 PM|Reuters

(Reuters) - The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating Friday's fatal crash of a Virgin Galactic spaceship, will review the Federal Aviation Administration's involvement in permitting the vehicle for test flight, acting NTSB chairman Christopher Hart said in an interview with Reuters on Monday.

"We’d look to see if the oversight was adequate, to the extent that there is oversight in this industry," he said.

"I know it's different than commercial  aviation, but we would look at all of those factors. That’s part of the total picture as to why did this happen. If there is some inadequate oversight and one thing led to another and the next thing you know we’re looking at pieces on the desert floor, then we would need to have that,” Hart said.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo broke up some 50,000 feet (15 km) above California during a test flight on Friday, strewing debris in the Mojave Desert. One of the two test pilots died.

The NTSB investigates transportation accidents and makes recommendations on rule changes to the FAA, the federal agency that governs U.S. airspace.

The FAA, which is charged with ensuring the safety of space operations and promoting commercial space launches, began setting up rules to issue experimental permits about a decade ago, allowing companies to test reusable, suborbital rockets without obtaining a full launch license.

Companies cannot carry commercial cargo or passengers with an experimental permit, which is patterned on experimental airworthiness certificates issued for aircraft.

In 2007, in response to growing interest in space tourism, the agency established rules for space crew and passengers on private space flights, including how companies must disclose the risk to passengers, requirements for life-support systems, and for verifying that vehicles and software work together properly, including with test flight.

The agency authorized two powered test flights of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo last year under experimental permits.

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