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More than a year after the New Shepard accident, the FAA finally closes its investigation

It appears that Elon Musk and SpaceX is not the only space company being stymied by the new heavy-handed regulation coming from the federal bureaucracy since Joe Biden took power. In a statement issued yesterday, the FAA announced that is had finally closed its own investigation into the New Shepard accident that occurred on September 12, 2022, more than a year after it occurred. More significantly, the FAA also said that despite completing its investigation, it is still denying Blue Origin a launch license to resume suborbital flights.

The FAA required Blue Origin implement 21 corrective actions to prevent mishap reoccurrence, including redesign of engine and nozzle components to improve structural performance during operation as well as organizational changes. … The closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of New Shepard launches. Blue Origin must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and receive a license modification from the FAA that addresses all safety and other applicable regulatory requirements prior to the next New Shepard launch.

It once again must be stated that there is no one at the FAA truly qualified to make such recommendations. These are paper-pushers, even if they have some engineering background. The FAA must rely on Blue Origin’s own engineers to determine these issues, as well figure out what must be done to fix them.

While Blue Origin’s own corporate culture — terribly slow at accomplishing anything — is certainly at major factor in these delays, it appears the FAA has not been helping. Blue Origin had announced the completion of its own investigation in March, six months ago, with the same conclusions as the FAA investigation completed now. Why did it take the FAA six more months to close its own investigation?

Moreover, the FAA’s statement makes it clear that Blue Origin has not yet satisfied the government’s demands, even though the investigation is closed. For Blue Origin to have still not implemented the corrections is to be expected, considering its slow methods of operation, but this statement — similar to the statement issued in connection with closing its investigation of the SpaceX’s Superheavy/Starship test flight — suggests a new and unprecedented policy at the FAA, treating all space-related incidents as if the rockets and spacecraft are no different than airplanes. First it will take its time issuing its own investigation, then it will take its time approving the corrections any company implements, just to make sure all the “i”s are dotted and the “t”‘s are crossed.

It is also possible that the FAA has been ordered to implement this new heavy-handed policy by higher ups in the White House on all companies, in order to hide the political motivations that have been targeting SpaceX and Elon Musk.

Regardless, this new strict regulation likely means we should expect a serious slowdown in the rebirth of commercial space. The renaissance of achievement by private enterprise in the past decade in space could be ending.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Col Beausabre

    The problem with regulatory agencies is the vast majority of their staff are individuals with the need – not desire, psychological need – to regulate often for the sake of regulating. Because we of the lumpen proletariat are so dumb to make our own decisions about our lives and need the benevolent guidance of our betters.

  • Edward

    Moreover, the FAA’s statement makes it clear that Blue Origin has not yet satisfied the government’s demands, even though the investigation is closed.

    In my experience, this is common. Investigations can be fairly quick, but corrections can take time, especially when a redesign is involved. It is not surprising that SpaceX had completed most of its actions and all the ones needed for the next launch, because they are a “can do,” “go for launch” company. They have a sense of urgency, and they don’t sit around when there is downtime but find other tasks to complete.

    Regardless, this new strict regulation likely means we should expect a serious slowdown in the rebirth of commercial space. The renaissance of achievement by private enterprise in the past decade in space could be ending.“.

    It could be worse. We already lost Virgin Orbit to similar bureaucratic nonsense, and some of our newer space companies likewise can burn through their war chests while awaiting some delayed decisions. Virgin Orbit had expansion plans, but those plans depended upon launching five months before their license came. SpaceX has Starlink plans, which also depend upon Starship launches. Fortunately, the FCC limited the size of their next generation constellation, so — ironically — the pressure is less for them to get satellites on orbit, but the pressure is still great if they may use only Falcons for the next three years or so.

    Falcon’s rapid cadence of launches is not showing off to the world what they can do, it is a desperate attempt to get 7,500 satellites into orbit in the next three years.

    Rocket Lab was delayed from launches from Wallops. This didn’t do them any favors. Other space companies have shifted gears, in the past year, and regulatory foot dragging may be one reason why.

  • GeorgeC

    The NTSB says that congress gave it some role in space, see

  • Edward

    Varda can’t even return its drug samples that were manufactured in space. One would think that a HIV drug is important enough as a priority, but somehow healthcare seems to be very low priority, now that the government has taken such an important role through Obamacare.

    Relativity Space abandoned its small satellite launch vehicle, Terran-1, in order to focus its efforts on its medium launch vehicle, Terran-R. Is it possible that they abandoned the launcher because they thought the FAA would take too long to approve its investigation?

    As Robert noted during last week’s Batchelor Show interview, several launch companies that tried to launch last year, 2022, have yet to attempt another launch so far this year. Why the delay for companies that are hemorrhaging money? Can they survive if they are not able to begin revenue operations?

    Then we had NOAA try to regulate photography from space, a few years ago. And the FCC seems to think it is the proper regulatory body for space travel. So, now we have at least three government agencies claiming space regulatory jurisdiction. NASA isn’t making that same claim, but it is fairly heavily influencing the designs of spacecraft that are made for doing work for that agency.

    After posting my previous comment, I started to wonder, “How far behind is the NTSB in its claim for jurisdiction in space?” GeorgeC already had that answer.

    For five decades, NASA was the sole source of space transportation and exploration, a monopoly. What we expected was for NASA to quickly bring us the promises for space that Walt Disney and Werner von Braun showed us just as the Space Race was starting. Instead, we were consistently disappointed, because government was not interested in most of the benefits that we could get from space. Almost all that we got were the few things that government was interested in. When we let government be in charge, all we got was what government wanted.

    However, now that We the People have some control over the access to space, we can get what we want. Just a few years ago, NASA was the major customer for commercial space companies, a monopsony, but this is already changing. NASA, as a monopsony, still had a large amount of control over the suppliers of space access, but now that so many launches are for non-governmental customers, government is losing control over the launchers, and as more companies use space for commercial purposes, government is losing its monopoly over the use of space.

    Now that We the People have some control over the use of space, the rest of government feels the need to make sure that we don’t do anything that government isn’t interested in. During the time that NASA was in control, the rest of government was not vying for jurisdiction to control the access to space or the use of space, but now that NASA has less control, the rest of government is stepping all over themselves trying to be the new government gatekeeper.

    If we review the Constitution and compare it with current government actions, we see that government is no longer there to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” one of the stated reasons that We the people “do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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