Elon Musk’s SpaceX faces a major setback as the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the company to ground Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, until it takes many corrective actions. The launch vehicle’s debut launch in April ended in an explosion.
FAA announced Friday that it closed its investigation into the explosion and cited multiple causes that could have led to the mishap. SpaceX must now take 63 corrective actions to ensure that such an incident does not happen again. After making all the corrections, the company will have to apply for and receive a license modification from the federal regulation before it can attempt another launch.
These corrective actions include redesigns to the vehicle to prevent leaks and fires, a redesign of the SpaceX launch pad to make it stronger, new addition reviews in the design process and additional analysis and testing of critical systems, including the Autonomous Flight Safety Systems.
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Elon Musk on Tuesday had claimed in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that Starship is ready for launch, pending FAA approval.
Starship is ready to launch, awaiting FAA license approval
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 6, 2023
In a statement issued on Friday, SpaceX termed the first flight test as a critical step in advancing Starship’s capabilities, adding that it “provided numerous lessons that are directly contributing to several upgrades being made to both the vehicle and ground infrastructure to improve the probability of success on future Starship flights.”
The company attributed the explosion to leaking propellants on Starship causing a fire, severing the connection with the vehicle’s primary flight computer. This caused a loss of communication with the booster engines and, eventually, led to a loss of control of the vehicle. The Musk-led company is now working on various hardware and software upgrades to the vehicle, along with upgrades to its Starbase launch facility at Boca Chica, Texas.
In the meanwhile, NASA officials have seemingly admitted that its Space Launch System (SLS) program is “unaffordable.” SpaceX’s Starship should play an important role as the American space agency attempts to land humans near the South Pole of the Moon for the first time with the Artemis 3 mission. But right now, that seems to be up in the air.