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SpaceX gets FAA warning

June 17, 2021

By Chris Forrester

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has criticised Elon Musk’s SpaceX over a test launch of a giant Starship rocket (Flight SN8) on December 9th 2020.

The FAA says SpaceX ignored two warnings that its official issued software had shown up and that SpaceX was under formal investigation over how it responded to the FAA warning signs. The FAA cautioned SpaceX that it could lose its licence to operate from the Boca Chica, South Texas site.

SpaceX in its formal response said that the FAA’s technology was frequently faulty and a “source of frustration” and had often been inaccurate or ultra-conservative.

SpaceX’s violation of its operating launch license was “inconsistent with a strong safety culture,” the FAA’s space division chief Wayne Monteith said in its letter to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

The series of letters show that the FAA warnings were heeded by Musk’s team for an hour and telephone calls between the FAA’s officials and Musk’s team were made. The rocket launched and rose some 6 miles into the sky but exploded violently upon landing.

Subsequently the FAA insisted that SpaceX revaluate its safety processes and improve its responses and timings and that an FAA inspector needed to be at the launch site for future rocket activity.

Four more launches happened since SN8, and one was super-successful. SpaceX had modified its launch process and had switched from an automated launch pattern to a human-controlled go-ahead.

SpaceX is expected to make its next test flight (SN16) later in June when it will launch a giant Starship from Texas to near Hawaii.

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