SpaceX might have violated the terms of its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test license when it launched its Starship rocket in December 2020. Although the initial launch was successful, the rocket exploded during landing. This prompted an investigation by the FAA, the Verge reports.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, had celebrated the launch of his company’s rocket which took place at Boca Chica, Texas. Musk had considered the launch of the rocket, which exploded moments after landing, as a success. However, the FAA was not pleased with the results and ordered a probe.
Internal sources said the investigation kicked off in that same week of the misadventure by SpaceX. Asides from investigating what caused the explosion that occurred shortly after landing, the FAA also assigned its investigative panel to look into the violation of its launch terms by SpaceX. However, it cannot be immediately pointed out what rule the company broke in its test flight, as a spokesperson for the agency refused to further elucidate the matter.
Notwithstanding, the spokesperson for the FAA, Steve Kulm, said on Friday that the agency was working with SpaceX to assess the information the company had presented as it plans to renew its launch license. The FAA said that while it would continue to encourage innovation in the commercial space industry, it was determined to ensure that the safety of the public was guaranteed.
The agency confirmed that the license renewal application of SpaceX would only be given an approving nod if it came to an agreement that SpaceX had complied with regulatory requirements, Arstechnica writes.
The actions of SpaceX had prompted renewed interest from the FAA and may be responsible for the delay in the company launching its next Starship test, which was slated for Thursday. The company had fully prepared and was looking forward to the launch; however, its test flight was kept pending by the FAA, which was still reviewing the license application.
The continued delay of its test flight by the FAA drew a reaction from Musk, who, exasperated by the slow pace of things, noted via Twitter that the current regulatory framework in place meant that innovation in the space industry would be significantly slowed down. This is especially true, as SpaceX plans to land humans on Mars.
The back and forth between the FAA and SpaceX may have resulted in altercations between SpaceX and the regulator. Over the years, Musk and other major players in the Space industry have consistently complained about the bureaucratic process at the FAA, which made progress and innovation in the space industry very challenging. However, last year, the FAA set in motion new regulations in tune with today’s realities, although these new guidelines are yet to go into effect.
His latest criticism of the regulatory framework in place at the FAA is only one of several calls by Musk urging the regulator to draft out new guidelines that would hasten the pace of development of the commercial space industry.
Over the years, SpaceX had been involved in running battles against government agencies over the right to fair participation in launches. The radical stance of the company’s CEO as regards the space industry had resulted in a $20 million fine by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2018.
In recent interviews with the media, Musk had opined that the government, above everything else, had proved a major stumbling block to the innovation of the space industry.