The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the conclusion Friday of a five-month investigation into what led to SpaceX’s catastrophic rocket explosion only minutes after takeoff from its Boca Chica, Texas, launchpad in April.
“The FAA has closed the SpaceX Starship Super Heavy mishap investigation,” the agency announced on its website.
“The final report cites multiple root causes… and 63 corrective actions SpaceX must take” – not only to prevent reoccurrence, but for the FAA to even consider allowing SpaceX to attempt launching the rocket a second time.
The uncrewed Starship rocket test flight blasted off on the morning of April 20th from the SpaceX Starbase spaceport and test facility in what was supposed to be the rocketship’s 90-minute debut flight into space.
But barely four minutes after takeoff, Elon Musk’s pet starship rocket failed to separate from its lower half and exploded in the sky – legally triggering the FAA technical investigation.
In a letter by the FAA addressed to SpaceX's Director of Starship Reliability, Shana Diez, and linked to the announcement, the agency described the specific details leading to the rocket's fiery explosion.
“During lift-off, structural failure of the launch pad deck foundation occurred, sending debris and sand into the air,” the agency wrote.
The FAA said “on ascent, the vehicle deviated from the expected trajectory, resulting in the Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS) issuing a destruct command.”
“After an unexpected delay following AFSS activation, Starship broke up, resulting in the loss of the launch vehicle,” the FAA concluded.
The FAA also said the closure of the investigation is not an automatic guarantee of approval to resume subsequent Starship launches,and rambled off a list of corrective actions meant to address public safety concerns.
Once corrected, SpaceX will still have to apply for and receive an FAA license modification “that addresses all safety, environmental and other applicable regulatory requirements prior to the next Starship launch,” the agency said.
Although the SpaceX live launch ended in a plume of billowy smoke, Musk hailed it as a qualified success, providing valuable data to help advance the development of its next-generation Starship and Super Heavy rocket – both major components in NASA's new Artemis program for returning astronauts to the moon and ultimately colonizing Mars.
Musk founded the California-based company in 2002.
Separately, barely two weeks after the SpaceX failed rocket launch and explosion, several environmentalist groups filed a lawsuit against the FAA for allowing the test launch to take place.
The groups argued the launch site’s close proximity to a wildlife refuge and claimed the FAA failed to perform a proper impact assessment in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
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