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FAA says it will “lead” investigation into Starship #11 crash yesterday

They’re coming for you next: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that it will “oversee” the investigation into the crash at landing yesterday by SpaceX’s eleventh Starship prototype.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which had an inspector at SpaceX’s facilities to observe the test flight, said in a statement that the FAA will oversee the company’s investigation into the “prototype mishap.” The FAA has conducted similar mishap investigations after previous Starship test flights. “The [Starship] vehicle experienced an anomaly during the landing phase of the flight resulting in loss of the vehicle,” an FAA spokesperson said. “The FAA will approve the final mishap investigation report and any corrective actions SpaceX must take before return to flight is authorized.”

The FAA noted that it will also work with SpaceX to identify reports of light debris in the area, saying that there have yet to be any reported injuries or damaged to public property.

What will really go on here is that an FAA official will observe closely as SpaceX conducts the investigation. That official might have some background in space engineering, but he or she will be completely unprepared to actually lead the investigation. Thus in the end the FAA will really only be able to rubber stamp SpaceX’s conclusions, though it might as all governments do, demand its own pound of flesh before issuing that stamp.

Up to now the FAA has tried very hard to work with the new commercial space companies, especially SpaceX, doing as little as it can to impede their progress. There are strong signs however that this might now change with the Democrats in control of the White House and Congress. If so, expect the FAA to cause SpaceX some grief during this investigation, grief that could significantly delay further test flights.

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  • JhonB

    This should take a year or two.

  • Col Beausabre

    Well, supervising and ensuring safe flight is the most basic part of the FAA’s mission, so this should not be a surprise. Aa far as being time consuming, regulators tend to err to the cautious side due to the possible dangers of a misstep and coswquemt public outcry. Remember that they are supposed to be public servants, so they have to be responsive to the this country’s people

  • Cotour

    Just another opportunity to further retard America in relation to China?

    Sorry, but with the Democrats in the persona of Joe Biden in control of the administration that is a scenario that must now be considered.

    Again, in the name of “Safety”, just like with the virus we become ham strung.

    There are no conspiracies, but their also are no coincidences.

  • mrsizer

    While a certain amount of cynicism seems warranted (does cynicism come in buttloads or hogsheads?), I think the old adage of “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” applies. Not wanting debris raining down upon one’s head is a legitimate concern. But I notice that the physical presence of an FAA inspector did not prevent that, so the rules seem arbitrary and fairly useless.

  • Col Beausabre

    Regarding the question of speed and caution by regulators, read about Thalidomide. The FDA’s caution prevented unmentionable pain and grief in this country

    “The US FDA refused to approve thalidomide for marketing and distribution. However, the drug was distributed in large quantities for testing purposes, after the American distributor and manufacturer Richardson-Merrell had applied for its approval in September 1960.[c The official in charge of the FDA review, Frances Oldham Kelsey, did not rely on information from the company, which did not include any test results. Richardson-Merrell was called on to perform tests and report the results. The company demanded approval six times, and was refused each time. Nevertheless, a total of 17 children with thalidomide-induced malformations were born in the US. Oldham Kelsey was given a Presidential award for distinguished service from the federal government for not allowing thalidomide to be approved for sale in the US.”

    If you want to sink private space in this country, create an impression of it being run by out of control riverboat gamblers and gunslingers


    I thought the NTSB was in charge of investigations? And why suddenly now ( that’s a rhetorical question)?

  • john hare

    Caution is warranted, the question being who makes the decisions. Even now, I would trust Boeing over an FAA inspector on a specific vehicle safety. Thalidomide is a 60 year old example of a company mistake costing lives and injury. How many times has that example been used to justify keeping lifesaving treatments off the market? I would bet that a vast multiple of the 10,000 thalidomide casualties have been inflicted on the American people in the name of safety and caution.

    Disclosure is that I have had numerous run ins with ignorant inspectors over the decades along with a handful of proper catches by some competent. ones. I have had to do things that were wrong structurally by inspector fiat.

  • How does FAA even have jurisdiction? Was it not all private property, *on* private property? Is FAA claiming authority for anything above a certain altitude? And how would they enforce that if Elon, or anyone, says “No”?

    On wonders if Elon could just purchase one of those little central-Pacific island nations and pay off anyone who wants to relocate, then hire those who stay to run the restaurants and garbage trucks and all.

  • George C

    If you eventually want bank financed spacecraft and commercial leasing then the FAA needs to learn how to regulate spacecraft like it does aircraft. Of course after the industry gets old enough you can eventually get designs like the 737 max where decisions were made in order to game the regulatory system. But at this early stage you just have to let the chips fall where they will. Trade secret management will be an issue.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Rooting for SpaceX, but not unreasonable to expect oversite of these these things.

    Spaceflight participants and even space flight workers accept a certain amount of risk. If you work for SpaceX and a piece of debris gongs your car in the Starbase parking lot, well, in the words of our beloved President, C’mon man! But if I live in Brownsville or Galveston or Houston, I have a reasonable low expectation (National ranges generally use one in a million) that flaming pieces of spacecraft may come down of my head.

    Think this is another, “architecture” decision Musk made. He decided to create his own “Cape Canaveral” and establish basically his own Gulf of Mexico test range. Eric Berger’s book “Lift-Off” showed what an invaluable role Kwajalein played in jumpstarting SpaceX with Falcon 1. Now he doesn’t have that USAF / US Army run safety net below him. Let’s him go faster but once he gets above 10 kilometers, the divert circle gets pretty big. Even bigger when you start shooting for 17,000 mph and 200 klicks high.

    Someone on here said that they’d trust Boeing to do the investigation rather than the FAA but I see no recent event in their commercial crew work that have a firm handle on what they are doing. More to the point, IMO, is if someone with range experience (Eastern, Pacific, WSMR, Wallops) will join the FAA for this investigation. Does Musk have a 6 DOF ready to show investigators? What is that 6 DOF pedigree and how has it been validated? I agree control of proprietary SpaceX information and techniques has to be addressed by the USG.

  • wayne

    Breaking Bad
    Se2: Ep13:
    Air Traffic Control scene

  • MDN

    The FAA may have reasonable jurisdiction, but SpaceX is a commercial company and this investigation involves their propritary systems and technology. If someone wants to give Boeing a role in this I’d suggest SpaceX be given a role in evaluating the flight control systems of Boeing commercial aircraft and have a say in whether they are safe to fly.

  • john hare

    Above I meant I would trust Boeing on Boeing products or SpaceX on SpaceX products. Neither company on the others’ products. Out side inspectors are sometimes good, but also more often just obstructions.

    I want the Highway Patrol on the highways, but not in my car.

  • Col Beausabre

    How does FAA even have jurisdiction? By statute, the FAA has jurisdiction over anything airborne over the US or its waters

    “Myth #1: The FAA doesn’t control airspace below 400 feet

    Fact—The FAA is responsible for the safety of U.S. airspace from the ground up.”

    Ya don’t like that, contact your Representative and push to have the law changed. Good luck.

    Was it not all private property, *on* private property? No, you do NOT “own” the sky over your house, it is held in common by the citizens of the US

    Is FAA claiming authority for anything above a certain altitude? To repeat, if you are higher than you can jump, they own you

    “”Myth #1: The FAA doesn’t control airspace below 400 feet”

    And how would they enforce that if Elon, or anyone, says “No”? Shut him down and if he attempted to defy the order, arrest and jail him
    He ain’t a god, ya know – he’s a citizen like anyone else and, despite what his fanboys may think, subject to the same laws as the rest of us

  • f2000

    SpaceX made the progress they have because they dropped the bureaucratic model and are as excited about the lessons of failures as they are from success. Rapid iteration testing allows faster learning when you’re seeking test results, not perfect results. Government stepping in will force an end to that model and they’ll get as far as Bezos’ bureaucratic Blue Origins has. If you’re apologizing for the bureaucrats dipping their filthy hands deeper into the process than they already have you’re either ignorant or anti-progress. The real threat of SpaceX is that they show how remarkably incompetent and wasteful NASA has become, and they’ll have to be stopped.

  • millard fillmore

    As NASA engineers used to say,we don’t put tail numbers on rockets because the FAA would be involved in what we do at that point.We don’t want that.The FAA jurisdiction,according to even other government organizations,is airspace and aircraft and the pilots who fly them.Rockets are a bit different.Does the FAA get ignored without escalation?Ask the SR-71 pilots who had to exceed the FAA ‘speed limit’ of 250 knots under 10K in altitude.Blackbirds didn’t like low speed at any altitude,and the FAA,even though it was an aircraft,chose to butt out.

  • Jeff Wright

    Though it might seem wasteful, if Starship was refueled in LEO to burn back down-could it omit the TPS? Intumescent paint and the venting of propellants near the skin be enough?

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