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Good news? FAA issues own report on April Starship/Superheavy launch

The FAA today closed out its own investigation into the April test launch failure of SpaceX’s Starship/Superheavy rocket, stating that it found “63 corrective actions SpaceX must take” before another launch license will be issued.

Corrective actions include redesigns of vehicle hardware to prevent leaks and fires, redesign of the launch pad to increase its robustness, incorporation of additional reviews in the design process, additional analysis and testing of safety critical systems and components including the Autonomous Flight Safety System, and the application of additional change control practices.

It is not clear how many of these corrections have already been completed by SpaceX. The FAA made it clear however that it does not yet consider its requirements to have been met.

The closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of Starship launches at Boca Chica. SpaceX must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and apply for and receive a license modification from the FAA that addresses all safety, environmental and other applicable regulatory requirements prior to the next Starship launch.

The timeline suggests FAA is demanding additional actions from SpaceX. The company submitted its own investigation report to the FAA on August 16th. The FAA then spent almost a month reviewing it, during which it almost certainly decided some of SpaceX’s corrections were insufficient. It has now followed up with its own report, listing additional actions required.

Remember, no one at the FAA is qualified or even in a position to do a real investigation. They are simply acting as a chess kibitzer on the sidelines, making annoying commentary based on less information than held by the players of the game (in this case SpaceX). Unlike a chess kibitzer, however, the FAA controls the board, and can force SpaceX to do its recommended moves, or declare the game forfeited by SpaceX.

If the FAA has required additional actions, we will find out in the next few days when SpaceX destacks Starship/Superheavy and rolls both back into the assembly building. It is also possible we instead shall have a few weeks of back-and-forth negotiations by phone, zoom, paper, and face-to-face meetings, whereby SpaceX engineers will be desperately trying to make FAA paper-pushers understand some of their engineering work which will eventually result in an agreement by the FAA to let SpaceX launch.

Remember, none of this kind of regulatory interference and investigation took place between SpaceX and the FAA during the Trump administration when SpaceX was flying a Starship suborbital test flight almost monthly. The heavy boot of regulation arrived soon after Biden. The two are closely linked.

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  • Doubting Thomas

    The FAA “Good Idea Fairies” have been very busy raising the cost of Starship launches.

    Special Forces troops say that many operators are killed pursuing the desires of good idea fairies.

    I suspect that the ones that make sense have already been implemented by SpaceX. The rest are just time and money consuming frittering around the edges. Some (like more reviews, more analysis, more studies) will result in an increase to the recurring cost ($ and time) of operations with SpaceX.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Let’s see. There was no damage to anything not SpaceX but the morons in the FAA want to second guess. If they were any good as engineers they wouldn’t be working for the FAA.

  • Mike Borgelt

    File under “How Government Regulators Work”:
    I have a pal who is a recently retired airline pilot (freight dog on 737’s). Last year one of his work colleagues quit and went to work for Australia’s aviation regulator (Civil Aviation Safety Authority- CASA). On arrival at his new job he was immediately told ” there are only two things for you to worry about – your pay and your leave entitlements”

  • Steve Richter

    FAA appears to be applying the standards of regularly scheduled launches to one off test launches. SpaceX needs to launch Starship to determine if the water deluge and steel plate improvements will work. Also to make sure the flight termination system works.

    What if SpaceX tells the FAA that the next launch is intended to test these improvements? A 33 engine launch to test that the launch tower can remain intact. And then have a plan to engage the Starship FTS? Either soon after stage separation or intentionally use the FTS to destroy Starship when it is over the Pacific ocean.

    If the FAA is making a big deal about the safety of the system, how do they deny approval to a launch that is intended to test those features?

  • pawn

    Steve, you must understand that the proper operation of the safety related systems is more important than whether the rocket works or not.


  • Envirocat

    Our government punishes success and rewards failure. Space X launches multiple rockets annually at 1/10th the cost of SLS – which still hasn’t had a launch in 10 years. We certainly can’t have that now, can we?

    Time for some Deep State bureaucracy to put the brakes on that kind of progress.

  • Max

    Demands from a Biden administration usually comes with the hand positioned outward with the palm up.

    No corrective measure, even if already resolved, is good enough for the FAA. I expect that we will soon be hearing about a “political comrade officer” overseeing the corrective measures and reporting back to the administration any violations of the ESG requirements which will result in heavy bribes, I mean fines.
    Unfortunately leeches don’t always know how much to drain without killing the host.

    Now it is a race to see what can get done before the end of September when the government runs out of money and the FAA goes on holiday with pay.

  • Concerned

    It is so very difficult to maintain trust in our overlords these days after all that has gone on. I’m sure there are still honest people left in many of the ranks, but so few of them will stand up and disagree with the top ranking oligarchs issuing the orders for fear of losing their jobs. How I wish we still had a representative government that was responsive to the people instead of this out of control administrative leviathan that answers to a cabal.

  • Elon Musk posted a top level list of the 63 items in the FAA report, Congrats to SpaceX for completing & documented the 57 items required by the FAA for Flight 2 of Starship!. This is good news. The other 6 items are to be completed for future flights and I would believe are currently being worked on.

  • Edward

    All the corrective action items that were visible in the linked Twitter (X?) looked like they came from SpaceX itself. This would explain why the urgent ones were already complete, but I do not know (but have suspicions) why the non-urgent ones are part of the investigation report. Five urgent items are obviously associated with the failed flight termination system. None of the action items seem to be related to the deluge system or the damage to the pad — even the category titles do not seem to relate to the pad. They all seem to be related to performance during flight.

    The thing is, if they hadn’t had to terminate the flight and had landed similar to the flight plan, most or all of those items would still be on SpaceX’s internal to do list, but the rest of us would never have known about them. This is a list that is similar to any development test. These are the results of the lessons learned from the test.

    I either made a comment somewhere or intended to comment that the FAA would add its own action items to the list, just to rationalize its existence as overseer. I may have been incorrect on that matter. There may be a possibility that we see Starship make another flight attempt later this month.

    Fingers crossed.

  • Steve Richter

    A video by the NASA space flight video channel
    A lot of liberals view this channel. Read the comments. 99% say they like that the FAA is working from the SpaceX list. The implication being that the FAA wants another test flight as much as they do.

    I think it is promising in that the FAA and the establishment space media have now stated publicly what the requirements are for the next test flight. If the FAA pulls the football away after these list items are satisfied even liberal space enthusiasts will be disappointed.

  • Questioner

    NASASpaceflight: “What’s Going on with Starship and the FAA?”

  • Questioner: Once again, the innocence and naivety of this NASASpaceflight analysis amazes me. From the start the report assumes that the FAA is utterly innocent and totally trustworthy, and anyone who questions them is foolish and ignorant.

    Considering again what has happened in the past three years, with the endless lies and falsehoods and corruption from government officials from many alphabet agencies (CDC, FDA, FBI, CIA, DOJ, to name just a few), it seems to me just the opposite, that anyone who trusts any government agency when it is imposing its will on others is naive, foolish, and willfuly ignorant.

    Of course SpaceX and the FAA have been working together on the investigation. And of course all the real investigative work was done by SpaceX. With that understanding, I wonder again why it took the FAA almost a month to close out the investigation. They should have known everything when SpaceX closed its investigation, and been able to immediately issue their own report.

    The NSF analysis also assumed SpaceX hadn’t yet submitted an application for its launch license modification. Why? It seems absurd to assume SpaceX didn’t do it the same instant it submitted its final report to the FAA.

    In the end, I remain suspicious of the FAA’s actions, as well as whether it is getting pressure from above to slow walk things. I also note again that SpaceX did not have to go through such a detailed bureaucratic process with the FAA when it was doing its test suborbital flights back in 2021. Something changed when there was a change in presidents.

    Finally, that so many Americans are still so willing to accept any government agency at its word at this point seems downright insane.

  • Someone remind me … how long did it take for the FAA to re-authorize airline service, after those safety-related incidents of 22 years ago?

    That service then posed a far greater risk to the public than SpaceX test flights do today.

  • TallDave

    may need to fix the Arizona ballot signature comparison algorithm before they can launch

  • doug

    My cousin is an AAE, or was. She spent time in assembly and puting stuff together, and analysing and being a part of a design team for the Delta IV stuff a time ago. She stopped it, because “nothing happens, so I just accepted that nothing happens.” and then she became an “environmental engineer.” where as she says. “I move paper from one place to another, and sometimes sign things.”

    It broke my heart seeing the young woman who achieved so much from a middling upbringing to be an AAE, and accomplished to have so much of her soul stolen by the process. Still a great gal, great cousin, great mom, and so on, but at one time, she had something, and a bunch of paper got in the way of what she was passionate about just for herself.

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