Musk's mighty missile is ready for launch once FAA says OK

Starship Super Heavy to remain on terra firma until US watchdog ticks off the corrective actions

Updated SpaceX supremo Elon Musk has declared that the next fully stacked Starship is primed for blast off. Sadly, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) doesn't see things in quite the same way.

Musk trumpeted: "Starship is ready to launch, awaiting FAA license approval" on his mouthpiece, X - formerly known as Twitter. That approval, however, has yet to appear despite the stacking of rocket hardware at SpaceX's South Texas Starbase.

There is no indication when stacking will turn to launching - and hopefully (from Musk's perspective) it won't include exploding this time.

The hold-up is that regulatory approval. Many things went wrong during the first launch attempt, and the FAA expects SpaceX to implement corrective actions to its satisfaction.

An FAA spokesperson told The Register: "The SpaceX Starship mishap investigation remains open. The FAA will not authorize another Starship launch until SpaceX implements the corrective actions identified during the mishap investigation and demonstrates compliance with all the regulatory requirements of the license modification process."

As a reminder, the first launch attempt in April could charitably be described as eventful. A lack of a sound suppression system led to the rocket nearly demolishing its launch pad and damaging surrounding launch infrastructure - debris was sprayed over a distance measured in miles.

The rocket went into a tumble shortly after launch, with an agonising wait before it was destroyed. The launch also sparked a ground fire in a habitat that is home to endangered wildlife.

SpaceX has since built and tested a water deluge system beneath the launchpad. It has also changed how the rocket's first and second stages will separate during launch.

Unsurprisingly, environmental groups were distinctly unimpressed with the company's antics and a sueball [PDF] was recently launched by a group including the Center for Biological Diversity questioning the decision-making process of the FAA in granting SpaceX a license to launch in the first place.

Despite Musk's confidence, the FAA has remained tightlipped on when and if it will give the billionaire the nod for a second attempt at launching Starship into space. From SpaceX's point of view, the hardware is ready to go. Two hot fires were largely successful, and the upgraded pad infrastructure has been tested.

A lot is riding on a Starship launch. NASA needs the vehicle as part of its Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon, and Musk has made no secret of his desire to colonise Mars. In the immediate term, it is also needed to continue building out the Starlink satellite constellation. ®

Updated ar 15.41 UTC on September 11 to add:

The FAA has closed its investigation into the mishap but stopped short of giving SpaceX the go-ahead to resume launching from its Boca Chica facility.

The agency has listed 63 corrective actions it expects SpaceX to take before a license can be applied for and the next Starship launched.

According to the FAA, these 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.”

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