FAA ends probe into SpaceX’s failed Starship launches

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Elon Musk just gave SpaceX fans a glimpse into the company's Starship Mk. 1 rocket.
Image: Darrell Etherington

Despite the company’s enthusiasm and success with other vessels, SpaceX hasn’t had much luck with its massive Starship just yet. The company has failed to land the vessel after each of its last two test flights. Each one resulted in a fiery crash on the launchpad that looked much worse than it was.

Following the test failures, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launched a probe into SpaceX to determine whether its launches were safe.

Now, the agency has determined that the investigation is no longer necessary and that the resulting explosions were “within the bounds” of its safety criteria. In other words, there was no threat of danger to the public when either of the craft exploded.

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With the regulatory hurdles out of the way, it’s likely that SpaceX will resume its test launches shortly. The company is working hard to meet the ambitious pace set by its founder Elon Musk. It reportedly has the next version of Starship, the SN10, ready to go.

The End

The termination of the FAA’s investigation was confirmed by CNN reporter Jackie Wattles on Twitter late last week. She wrote, “The FAA closed the investigation of the Feb. 2 SpaceX starship SN9 prototype mishap today, clearing the way for the SN10 test flight pending FAA approval of license updates.”

Interestingly, those seemingly inconsequential license updates have landed SpaceX in hot water before. It’s the reason the company’s SN8 launch was being investigated. SpaceX allegedly violated its FAA license by launching the craft before its license update had been granted. According to Wattles, that matter has been settled.

As for the fiery failure of SpaceX’s SN9 craft earlier this month, the FAA seems to be satisfied that it didn’t put “the public or property” in harm’s way. It’s worth noting that the investigation was standard procedure following the failure of a craft upon reentry and that SpaceX isn’t at fault.

Of course, there is never an end to the regulatory drama. After launching a batch of Starlink satellites last week, SpaceX failed to recover one of its Falcon 9 boosters. It is the first time the spaceflight firm failed to do so in a long time. But, just like the SN9 failure, it puts the company back under the eye of the FAA.

Once again, since the booster posed no threat, the investigation shouldn’t be anything more than a formality.

Flying Soon

SpaceX now looks to resume the testing of its Starship rocket. The next test flight could come as soon as February 22, however, the likely target is later in the week.

Either way, it appears that SpaceX aims to fly its massive rocket again in the near future. In a tweet on Sunday, Elon Musk said, “Good chance of flying this week!”

It’s worth noting that Boca Chica has already closed the nearby highway and beach ahead of “non-flight testing activities” for Monday. This typically means that a static fire test will be carried out ahead of a launch later in the week.

As for whether the SN10 will have better luck than its predecessors, it’s hard to tell. Even Musk isn’t sure, giving the rocket a 60 percent chance of landing successfully. Regardless, it will be worth tuning in when SpaceX gives its latest version of Starship the green light.

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