FAA stays grounded in reality as SpaceX preps for takeoff
Ready to launch not the same as licensed to launch
SpaceX supremo Elon Musk expects the next Starship to be ready to launch in three to four weeks following the monster rocket's latest failure.
The timeline could charitably be called "optimistic" – something doubtless preying on the minds of NASA managers worrying about the Artemis Moon landing mission and the Starship launches on which the project depends. However, in this instance, there is every possibility that the flight hardware might be ready. Musk also noted that three Starships were in final production.
However, there's a big difference between ready to launch and allowed to launch. While SpaceX fanatics are trying to paint the second Starship Super Heavy launch as a success marred only by "rapid unscheduled disassembly," the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) described the incident as a "mishap."
As such, an investigation is required. Though this will be SpaceX-led, the FAA must approve both the probe and the final report. It must also sign off on corrective actions before a license to continue can be issued.
- SpaceX celebrates Starship launch as a success – even with the explosion
- SpaceX's Starship on the roster for Texas takeoff
- FAA is done with Starship's safety review, now it's over to the birds and turtles
- Musk's mighty missile is ready for launch once FAA says OK
SpaceX also has to submit a request to modify its license to add flights.
Flight two of the Starship Super Heavy improved on its predecessor, but only if you imagine that your self-driving electric car did not crash into a tree and catch fire. Instead, it made it a bit farther down the road, and then caught fire. Who knows, maybe it'll get all the way to the shops before catching fire on your third go?
Ultimately, there was still a mishap – in FAA parlance. Yes, booster separation worked, but the booster exploded shortly afterward. Yes, Starship made it a good deal higher this time, but contact was lost, and it seems likely that an automated flight termination command destroyed the vehicle.
Regardless of how bullish Musk might be, the FAA will want clear, unambiguous answers about what went wrong and how SpaceX will ensure it won't happen again.
While the next Starship Super Heavy might be ready in three to four weeks, the report and corrective actions will likely take a little longer. ®