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FAA, local Texas DA, and environmental group out to get SpaceX and Starship

Two news articles today suggest that a number of government officials, environmental groups, and some news media are beginning to team up to damage SpaceX and hinder its ability to succeed.

First we have this Verge article, aimed at suggesting that SpaceX violated its launch license and ignored FAA warnings not to launch during a December 9th test flight of the eighth Starship prototype.

Minutes before liftoff, Elon Musk’s SpaceX ignored at least two warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration that launching its first high-altitude Starship prototype last December would violate the company’s launch license, confidential documents and letters obtained by The Verge show. And while SpaceX was under investigation, it told the FAA that the agency’s software was a “source of frustration” that has been “shown to be inaccurate at times or overly conservative,” according to the documents.

The article generally takes the side of the FAA, suggesting that SpaceX was lax and nonchalant about the risks relating to weather and launch conditions, and proceeded with its launch even though FAA officials thought it unsafe. It also quotes Wayne Monteith, the head of the FAA’s space division, blasting SpaceX for showing “a concerning lack of operational control and process discipline that is inconsistent with a strong safety culture,” claiming that FAA software showed a risk to nearby buildings and homes should the rocket explode in the air.

However, buried far down in the article it also notes,

SpaceX agreed to take over a dozen corrective measures but defended its own data and decision-making. The company criticized the FAA’s launch-weather modeling software. The software’s results, SpaceX said, can be intentionally interfered with to provide “better or worse results for an identical scenario.

SpaceX has complained to the FAA in the past about the software, but “this feedback has not driven any action, contributing to the situation described above,” the report said. A “closer and more direct dialogue” with FAA officials would’ve smoothed the FAA discussions before SN8’s launch, SpaceX added. [emphasis mine]

In other words, SpaceX believed the software to imprecise and easily manipulated, thus allowing government officials the freedom to use it for their own purposes outside of simply safety concerns. The fact that a later Starship prototype did explode just prior to landing and did no apparent damage to any surrounding structures suggests SpaceX’s criticism might have had some validity.

Meanwhile, another government official, this time the county district attorney in Boca Chica, is teaming up with an environmental group that wants to stop development in the Rio Grande region to threaten SpaceX for closing roads in connection with its test program there.

The Cameron County District Attorney has sent a letter to SpaceX warning that they may be violating the law by closing county roads and hiring security that may not be licensed to carry weapons and furthermore requests details on their road closure hours.

In a letter sent to the senior director of SpaceX, Shyamal Patel, District Attorney Luis Saenz outlines concerns with some of the aerospace company’s operations.

This is a response following the letter sent to the DA and Judge Eddie Trevino, by the non-profit organization Save RGV, which called for the cease of road closures due to violations of agreements from 2013 and 2014 by the Cameron County and General Land Office, and the Federal Aviation Administration respectively.

The DA threatened to charge the company with crimes and also called for law enforcement to not cooperate with SpaceX until he was satisfied the company was in full compliance. Yet, he also admitted that much of the dispute could simply be due to “clerical errors.”

While it is perfectly correct to demand that SpaceX comply with the law and fly its rockets safely, it is also perfectly reasonable to be very skeptical of government officials who make these kinds of demands or accusations. Recent history tends to show that it is the government officials who are wrong-headed or playing power games, and that SpaceX’s engineering and actions are generally correct and thoughtfully considered.

Moreover, I wonder if the several thousand people now working in the Boca Chica area for SpaceX, jobs that did not exist before, would favor having the company shut down, by either the FAA, this DA, or this particular special-interest environmental group.

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  • Gary in Transit

    At least in September constitutional carry will cover the carrying of weapons

    Musk is ahead of the game with his ocean launch and recovery platforms. He seems to have realized early on that politicians would be holding Space X hostage, as they regularly do with many deep pocketed businesses. He has a good deal of experience with these sorts given that he has California based businesses.

  • Calvin Dodge

    There’s a history of Texas DAs using their power to harass their opponents. This seems like more of the same

    Oh, and this is Texas. Nobody needs a license to carry a gun.

  • Lee Stevenson

    @Gary in Transit,

    While Iam wish you nothing but love and light, the fact that your first reaction to a dispute over launch rights is, “Yay, we get more guns!”… Tbh… Not a good look!

  • Mark

    I looked at the website of Save RGV. It states that it has ‘partnerships (and of course friendships) with the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, Not Here Not Anywhere…”. Guess what – Last year Jeff Bezos gave $791 million to 16 environmental organizations, and he plans to give billions more. Do any of those 16 organizations have ‘friendships’ with the Save RGV organization that is targeting SpaceX?

  • Jay

    Good catch Mark! As a joke, Musk can fund the group “Save the Dust Devils!” and put a stop to those pesky Blue Origin launches that disrupt the air flow of nature’s endangered dust devils.

  • Calvin Dodge — As a Texan, I agree with you. Sometimes our local politicians like to throw their weight around. Cameron County is a Democratic Party enclave and as such will probably side with Leftist organization like Save RGV (Rio Grande Valley).

    Mark — That is a good call. With the Bezos/Musk competition, anything to slow down or even shut down Starship development through back door means is probably true.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Good observations by Gary in Transit, Calvin and Mark. True, we don’t need no “stinkin’ licenses in Texas for guns” but, having lived in the free state of Texas for a few decades, more guns in the hands of citizens can never hurt.

    It seems that the leviathan has awakened and realized that there is a chance for a robust industry and the avenues for increased graft must be ensured. Just read where the Cameron County DA lead a big celebration for Robert “Beto” O’Rouke. The observation that Lex Luthor Bezos may have a hand in this would never surprise me. I hope that a newly awakened Gov Gregg Abbott (he has primary opponents to the right) might do something about this. Hard to tell.

    Also have read that the EPA and other Federal agencies in the environmental grifting racket are getting amped up to take control again as in the Obama years.

    This is why I posted several weeks ago, speculation that Musk may have been given more top cover if he had launched out of KSC. Yes more transportation, lots of range rules, but hard for the FAA and the Eco-Terrorists to claim that big rockets going out of Canaveral is some sort of an environmental surprise. Most gave good reasons why Musk made the right choice, but it certainly seems like things are stacking against him doesn’t it?

    Initial launches at Canaveral or KSC, would have given him maybe more breathing room to get those sea based platforms done and have working systems coming off them. I also suspect, in retrospect, that a few more ocean landings would have prevented the use of videos of “exploding rockets” against him.

    Good luck Elon., fighting Isaac Newton and corrupt Dems is a tough row to hoe.

  • Jeff Wright

    The anti-spacers trash SLS hoping you g.uys bite and cheer them…then they write hit pieces like this hoping folks like me fall for it. No dice. The anti-spacers need to be silenced.

  • pzatchok

    It might be true a citizen of the great Republic of Texas doesn’t need a permit to own or carry a firearm.
    A security contractor more than likely does need paperwork.

    As professional security I bet they have all the paperwork and training they need and them some.
    And I bet there is a federal rule that makes Space X hire armed security.

    As for closing the roads does it matter if the local police do it or the hired security?

    I have watched my local police train and qualify on their handguns, Hired private security could not be worse.

  • Michael G. Gallagher

    I knew this was going to happen sooner or later. I hope Musk can hold off the vultures until he can get the offshore platforms operational. It’s interesting that local officials are just now voicing worries about road closures.

  • Brad

    The first Texas law against concealed and open carry was “An Act to Regulate the Keeping and Bearing of Deadly Weapons, Law of April 12, 1871, ch. 34, §1, 1871 Tex. Gen. Laws 25” passed as part of the Reconstruction. That law was not substantially modified until 1995.

    Gun control laws are exceedingly complex and subject to significant changes in recent times. So Calvin Dodge is only partly correct about guns in Texas.

    Yes, in Texas no license is required to carry a loaded long gun. But except under limited circumstances, carrying a loaded handgun outside the home in Texas required a State issued license.

    From 1871 until 1995, it was illegal to carry a loaded handgun in Texas. Texas Governor Bush in 1995 signed the bill that allowed concealed carry of a handgun with a Texas issued license. Open carry remained illegal.

    This year Texas Governor Abbott signed the bill that allows open and concealed carry of handguns, no license required. Texas thus joined 20 other States with similar handgun laws.

  • Lee Stevenson

    I know I am figuratively “peeing into a strong wind” here…. But unless any of you guys have spent any time in pretty much anywhere other than the US, You will have absolutely no idea how much the statement….

    “This year Texas Governor Abbott signed the bill that allows open and concealed carry of handguns, no license required. Texas thus joined 20 other States with similar handgun laws.”

    Absolutely boggles, stuns, amazes, and forces downward looking head shaking when we hear stuff like this.

    I am not joking when I say, that every European I have ever met.. ( England was still EU the last time I was back), considers your gun laws to be a very sick and bad taste joke. I understand the US believes in freedom, but to be free to carry killing tools, concealed or openly…. seriously… Has no one in this day and age thought “this might not be the best idea our Constitution has to offer?”

    Guys, I like most of the posters on here… ( Even the batpoo crazy ones!) But as pretty much the only European left here, it’s down to me to tell you. You need gun control. In this day and age where life is cheap, and powerful weapons are easily available, bad stuff is going to happen. A well armed militia can no longer take down a govenment, How many lives, how many mass shootings, how many domestic shootings will it take until you realize that easy access to guns is not the best of policy?

  • talgus

    Lee. we left europe for a reason that you express so well. telling others what and how to do everything. the gun control problem is strictly a political one. all big cities in the US (run by Progressive politicians), have unchecked killing in the streets. they also have very strict gun laws. this is true in Texas where Dallas, Houston, SanAntonio, and Austin have almost all the mass shootings. Everywhere else, the guns are well behaved.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Lee – I will just echo, what Talgus said. Both sets of my grandparents (in one case with my mother in their arms) left, nay, fled, Europe for more freedom. Part of that freedom is our beautiful Constitution and its amazing Ten Amendments.

    Wish I could wave a flag on Bob’s site. I’d wave two, the Stars and Stripes and the Lone Star Flag.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Bob – Could your correct “Which” to “Wish” on my post? Sorry, thanks.

  • Doubting Thomas: Done.

    As for waving the flag on BtB, there is always my tip jar. :)

  • indyjonesouthere

    The euros that do not have guns available do have vehicles and knives available to accomplish the same thing that guns accomplish. If the ghetto dwellers are excluded the violence of american whytes is no different than that of the whyte euro.

  • Trent Castanaveras


    In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

    The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    All governments SHOULD fear and respect their people.

    Although I agree that the time for any successful revolution by the US people is likely past, given our dependence on technologies with just a few entities holding the keys to said technologies, the cost of forcing a well armed people to go against their desire to make their life decisions for themselves needs to be high enough to prevent that government from even making the attempt.

    That’s why we have guns.

  • GreyGeek

    Lee Stevenson,
    Gun control is why people in England are not allowed to speak freely any more, out of fear of arrest for a multitude of politically correct reasons. The result is the same, regardless of the “reason” for speech control, loss of free speech rights. Anyone who disagrees with the approved narrative and speaks their mind are labeled “far right” extremists, or even White Extremists.
    THAT boggles my mind.

  • Edward

    Lee Stevenson,
    You wrote; “I understand the US believes in freedom, but to be free to carry killing tools, concealed or openly…. seriously…

    I’m pretty sure that you and most Europeans drive killing tools most days, so it is hard to understand why you all are so absolutely boggled, stunned, or amazed that we conservatives, too, are mature enough to handle similar equipment.

    Perhaps the reason why you all think of guns, but not cars, as killing tools is that the socialists in America are so willing to kill unarmed civilians — or Congressmen. if it weren’t for them, guns would not be considered killers. Then again, you guys aren’t so free of mass shootings, either, despite all your gun control.

    But as pretty much the only European left here, it’s down to me to tell you. You need gun control.

    I don’t blame you for thinking so, you have no idea that more gun control means more gun violence. You continue to assume that America is homogeneous, but it is not. The city of Chicago has a lot more gun violence than the entire state of Texas despite — or rather because of — having a lot more gun control. That should tell you something, but somehow you fail to receive the message. The places in America with more gun control have more gun violence, because those are the places where the socialists are more armed than the rest of us.

    This is why you think you are peeing into a strong wind. If you had actually thought it through, you would agree with us.

  • Edward

    Lee Stevenson wrote: “I understand the US believes in freedom, but to be free to carry killing tools, concealed or openly…. seriously…

    The problem with socialists is that they don’t believe in themselves. Put a gun in their mind and they think it must be for killing. No wonder when you put one in their hands they shoot up Republicans at baseball practice.

    Because they do not believe in themselves, they demand that someone else make their decisions. Socialists are insecure, fearing the possibility of choosing wrong, so they want someone else to choose for them. This is why they are so satisfied with government-run socialized medicine, they don’t have to choose anything, not even an insurance policy.

    But what if that someone else chooses wrong? What if that someone else chooses lockdowns and shutdowns — and smackdowns for those who don’t follow these orders? What if a Great Oppression is the wrong choice? What if the rulers choose to send Wuhan-ailing people into nursing homes — populations of the most vulnerable? What if many of the states ban standard treatments that provide early cures? Hydroxychloriquine had been stockpiled in the U.S. after the first SARS outbreak just for use on the next SARS outbreak, like the Wuhan flu. What if their choices cause economic havoc, complete with supply shortages, transportation shortages, and worldwide starvation, as the World Trade Organization fears will happen this year? What if the rulers’ choices cause more Wuhan deaths than would have happened if we had treated last year as any regular flu with the only addition of travel bans from impacted places?

    America was only supposed to lose 200,000 people if we had implemented nothing but travel bans and hand washing. Hand washing is standard, travel bans not so much, but our rulers went far beyond these measures and left us with three times as many dead, economic devastation, many trillions of dollars increase in national debt, destroyed lives and livelihoods, and lost liberties that even socialists believe we should have. What is our remedy for our socialist decision-makers having chosen so wrong and having made these choices against our will? We made sacrifices for a worse-than-useless solution.

    Our rulers assured us that if we expanded into a Great Oppression we would only suffer 60,000 Wuhan flu deaths, but we ended up with ten times that many, plus more than 100,000 who were lost due to the Great Oppression itself. We made tremendous sacrifices for a horrific solution.

    When the rulers choose wrong, we have tremendous devastation. If we individually choose wrong, then we have individual devastation, but at least we can recover from these decisions. Lose your business due to your own choices, start a new one, having learned lessons. Lose 40% of small businesses due to government choices, and who wants to take the chance that our rulers might destroy their new business, too?

    When We the People get to choose for ourselves, we get starships and new economies in space. When They the Government choose for us, we get projects to the Moon that they abandon after their great success. Government knows what it wants, and We the People know what we want. When we let government run things, all we get is what government wants. When We the People run things, we get what we want.

    Man invented government in order to provide protection from all enemies, foreign and domestic; to peaceably resolve disputes as a disinterested third party; and to stay out of our way, not to make our choices for us. After the Great Oppression, we remember why we want to make our own choices.

  • Joel

    Lee Stevenson wrote: “I am not joking when I say, that every European I have ever met.. ( England was still EU the last time I was back), considers your gun laws to be a very sick and bad taste joke.”

    Funny, when I was stationed there they all said the exact opposite of what you said they said. Especially the Swiss. The German units I trained with wished Americans like you would learn what your nation was founded on while they’ve been trying to fight to have the same mentality together throughout the entire planet.

    “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every country in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops.”

    – Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, October 10, 1787

  • Joel: FYI, Lee Stevenson lives in Sweden but is originally from the UK. He is a proud socialist, and thus always thinks what he believes is common and agreed to by everyone, except those crazy Americans with their “very sick and bad taste joke” gun rights. :)

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