SpaceX Faces Hurdles Before Next Starship Launch

SpaceX, under the direction of its CEO Elon Musk, eagerly awaits its next test of the Starship rocket

by Faruk Imamovic
SpaceX Faces Hurdles Before Next Starship Launch
© Getty Images News/Jeo Raedle

SpaceX, under the direction of its CEO Elon Musk, eagerly awaits its next test of the Starship rocket. However, they've hit a stumbling block: a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that hinges on the completion of 63 "corrective actions." Despite Musk's optimism and quips about the structural integrity of the previous launch, regulatory oversight has placed a damper on the company's progress.

The FAA’s findings from its investigation into the inaugural Starship launch in April revealed a series of concerns. Musk had confidently commented on the rocket’s structural margins post-launch, jesting that they were "better than expected." Yet, a report from the US Fish and Wildlife Service painted a less rosy picture, indicating a vast debris field encircling the launch pad.

Concrete remnants from the ill-fated launch scattered over an expansive 10-kilometer radius, and the aftermath even saw a blaze ignited.

63 Steps to the Stars: What SpaceX Needs to Address

In light of these findings, the FAA has mandated SpaceX to undertake 63 specific "corrective actions" before green-lighting another flight.

This exhaustive checklist encompasses:

  • A complete redesign of the rocket's hardware, targeting the prevention of leaks and fires.
  • Enhancements to the launch pad's durability and resilience.
  • Comprehensive design process reviews.
  • In-depth analysis and testing of pivotal safety mechanisms, such as the autonomous flight safety system.
  • Revisions to control practices.
SpaceX's next steps are clear-cut but formidable.

The company not only has to tick off each requirement from this list but also needs to secure a reconfigured permit encapsulating all safety, environmental, and additional stipulations. However, it's not all been setbacks for SpaceX.

They were quick to reassure stakeholders that invaluable lessons were gleaned from the maiden launch. Substantial upgrades have already been incorporated into both the rocket and ground facilities. A noteworthy mention is the rectification of the autonomous flight safety system.

Originally designed as a failsafe to trigger self-destruction if the rocket veered off track, this system had a delayed response during the initial flight. Although SpaceX has kept the specifics under wraps, they have confirmed the glitch's resolution.

Moreover, SpaceX has been proactive in enhancing system performance beyond addressing the primary flight's shortcomings. Innovations include a revamped separation mechanism for the rocket stages, a cutting-edge electronic system to modulate thrust vectoring, and significant augmentations to the orbital carrier and launch pad.

Elon Musk