SpaceX Ignored “Last Minute Warnings” From FAA About December Starship Launch That Ended In Flames
Elon Musk doesn’t play by the rules of public markets, nor does he play by the rules of the NHTSA. He also appears to be immune to any consequences from spineless regulators alike. So why is anyone surprised that Musk is openly skirting the suggestions of the FAA?
That’s exactly what SpaceX did back in December. SpaceX “ignored at least two warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration that launching its first high-altitude Starship prototype last December would violate the company’s launch license” and wound up launching anyway, a new report from The Verge details.
Even better is that SpaceX, while under investigation, turned around and “told the FAA that the agency’s software was a ‘source of frustration’ that has been ‘shown to be inaccurate at times or overly conservative,'” the report notes.
The FAA wasn’t amused with Musk’s behavior, but – in keeping with the impotence of other regulators (i.e. the SEC and NHTSA) doesn’t appear to have done anything about it. Not only that, but SpaceX actually won a $2.9 billion contract to put NASA astronauts on a flight to the moon shortly thereafter.
FAA’s space division chief Wayne Monteith said in a letter to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell: “Although the report states that all SpaceX parties believed that such risk was sufficiently low to comply with regulatory criteria, SpaceX used analytical methods that appeared to be hastily developed to meet a launch window.”
Monteith said the company’s actions were “inconsistent with a strong safety culture.”
Documents obtained by The Verge showed how “SpaceX prioritized speed over safety when launching on its own private rocket playground”.
SpaceX first sought to launch SN8 in Texas on December 8th, but had to scrap the plans due to an engine issue. On December 9, the next day, FAA officials “repeatedly rejected” SpaceX’s weather and launch modeling data that showed it was safe to fly.
The FAA’s models showed that “if the rocket exploded, its shockwave could be strengthened by various weather conditions like wind speed and endanger nearby homes.” SpaceX asked the FAA to waive these concerns but the FAA rejected the request.
Then, 15 minutes before liftoff, “the FAA informed SpaceX that the weather data provided was not sufficient” and cited the same safety risk. SN8 wasn’t cleared for launch. Then, just mintues before liftoff, “an FAA safety inspector speaking on an open phone line warned SpaceX’s staff in the launch control room that a launch would violate the company’s launch license.”
SpaceX launched anyway and, after the rocket flew more than 6 miles, it eventually blew up upon landing.
Monteith then wrote the company, stating: “These actions show a concerning lack of operational control and process discipline that is inconsistent with a strong safety culture.”
SpaceX agreed to corrective measures but continued to defend its data and decision making.
The House transportation committee has opened a probe into “the FAA’s subsequent response, and the pressure exerted on the FAA during high profile launches.”
Meanwhile, since the violation, SpaceX has launched four more rockets, all with FAA approval. You can read further details on the correspondence between Monteith and Shotwell at The Verge.
Thu, 06/17/2021 – 08:25
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