Space accidents: NTSB, FAA agree on leading investigations

HOUSTON (AP) — Two federal agencies agreed Friday which one will lead investigations of accidents in the nascent commercial space business that includes launching tourists far above the Earth.

The National Transportation Safety Board will take the lead investigating accidents that involve death or serious injury or that create potentially deadly debris. The Federal Aviation Administration will handle other investigations.

The NTSB is currently the primary investigator of crashes involving airplanes and other modes of transportation but has no authority to write regulations. The FAA is the chief safety regulator for the aviation industry.

The two agencies are frequently at odds, usually when the safety board believes its recommendations are being ignored by the FAA.

The agreement announced at NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston is the first to be signed by the agencies’ leaders in 22 years — before manned commercial space flights began. It also details how they will share information after an accident.

“This agreement is proof that the federal government can keep pace with the exciting advances taking place in the private sector while also prioritizing safety as we enter a new space age,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said in a statement.

Licensed space launches have increased in recent years, with operators including SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. They have launched civilians into sub-orbital flights and put satellites into orbit.

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