The FAA denied SpaceX a security waiver. His Starship SN8 rocket was launched anyway



Boom. SpaceX’s Starship SN8 prototype had a rough landing.


On December 9, 2020, SpaceX sent one of its prototype Starship Mars rocket, dubbed SN8, for the first time on a high-altitude test flight. The successful launch and flight ended with a hard and explosive landing, what Elon Musk warned ahead of time could be the result.

On Tuesday, we learned that the whole scene unfolded in defiance of the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. regulatory agency that oversees much of commercial space activity and allows SpaceX’s prototype spacecraft to operate in the American airspace.

“Prior to the launch of the Starship SN8 test in December 2020, SpaceX requested a waiver to exceed the maximum public risk allowed by federal safety regulations,” read a statement from an FAA spokesperson. “After the FAA denied the request, SpaceX proceeded with the flight. Due to this non-compliance, the FAA asked SpaceX to investigate the incident. Any tests that could affect public safety at Boca Chica, Texas launch. The site has been suspended until the investigation is complete and the FAA has approved the company’s corrective actions to protect public safety. “

The revelation came the very morning the FAA announced it had finally given the green light to SN8’s successor, SN9, to conduct its own high-altitude test flight from the company’s development facility. in Boca Chica, Texas.

SN9 was successfully launched and flown on Tuesday afternoon and then suffered an explosive landing very similar to the final fate of SN8. On Tuesday evening, the FAA announced it would open and oversee an investigation into the SN9 “landing accident”.

The FAA later provided more details on the launch of SN8 in December, explaining that “the company proceeded with the launch without demonstrating that the public risk associated with the overpressure of the far field explosion met regulatory criteria.” .

Basically, the FAA says SpaceX hasn’t shown that the risk to the public of a potential explosive wave is within legal limits, but it launched SN8 anyway.

“The FAA has asked SpaceX to conduct an investigation into the incident, including a full review of the company’s safety culture, operational decision-making and process discipline,” a spokesperson said. FAA word in an emailed statement. “The corrective actions approved by the FAA and implemented by SpaceX have improved public safety. These actions were incorporated into the launch of SN9 today. We do not plan to take any further enforcement action on the SN8 issue.

So it appears that SpaceX launched a prototype rocket without all the proper regulatory approvals, and the only consequence has been to conduct an internal review and delay the launch of its next prototype for a few days.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The launch of SN9 had been repeatedly postponed in January. Last week, it became clear that FAA approval was the main heist, leading Elon Musk to publicly criticize the agency on Twitter.

Nonetheless, the FAA said on Friday that it was working with SpaceX to approve an amended license for the launch of SN9.

“The corrective actions resulting from the SN8 incident are incorporated into the SN9 launch license,” the FAA said.

The last moments of SN8.

SpaceX video capture

“I’m trying to figure this out right now, and I’ll probably have more to say about it, but I’m just shocked that a licensee has violated a launch license and there doesn’t seem to be any repercussion, ”former FAA official Jared Zambrano-Stout wrote on Twitter. “If a licensee violated the terms of their launch license, they did so knowing that an uninvolved member of the public could have been injured or killed. This is not an exaggeration. They took a calculated risk with your life and your property.

An FAA spokesperson said the agency is unlikely to provide further comment on the incident.

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