• Mon. Jun 14th, 2021

FAA analyses delay the SpaceX Starship evaluation


Jan 31, 2021

As the firm seeks clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, a setback that has openly angered the firm’s chief executive officer, a flight test of SpaceX‘s Starship launch vehicle is now on hold. At its Boca Chica, Texas, testing facility on January 28, SpaceX aimed to conduct a suborbital trip of its Starship SN9 spacecraft. The aircraft will have made a very similar flight with that of the December 9 SN8 vehicle, traveling to an altitude of ten kilometers this period before arriving back at the Boca Chica. However, even as SpaceX was training the spacecraft for the launch, the temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) restricting airspace across the testing facility were abruptly removed around the middle of the day.

A source with knowledge of the FAA as well as SpaceX negotiations stated that before granting final clearance, the agency requested more details about the vehicle as well as flight schedule. Elon Musk, Chief Executive of SpaceX, criticized the FAA for the hold. “The FAA’s space division does have a totally flawed regulatory structure, apart from its aircraft division, which would be fine,” he posted. “Their laws are designed for a handful of dispensable launches from few other government installations each year. Under those rules, humanity is never going to hit Mars.” 

The company continued with January 28 launches plans, causing others to question if the company could launch without even a TFR or even other FAA approval in place. This proved to be the wet dress rehearsal, fueling the car but halting the countdown before igniting the engine. A second attempted launch on January 29 didn’t go nearly as far. Early throughout the day, the FAA air traffic advisory confirmed that the launch was cancelled, but the TFR stayed in effect. By midmorning, however, for the SN9 launch, SpaceX said it was now planning no sooner than February 1. Either SpaceX or the FAA has released no further information regarding the problem of preventing FAA clearance for the launch.

“Before we authorize the next flight test, we will keep working with the SpaceX to address unresolved safety concerns,” Steven Kuhn, FAA spokesperson, told SpaceNews on January 29. “As a component of its request to amend its launch permit, the FAA will continue working with SpaceX to examine extra details provided by the firm,” the FAA stated in a statement late on January 29. “Although acknowledging the value of moving rapidly to encourage development and creativity in commercial space, the FAA would not sacrifice its duty to safeguard public safety. Just after we are confident that SpaceX has undertaken the requisite measures to meet with regulatory requirements, can we approve the change.”