FAA Ends Investigations Into Crashed SpaceX Starship Prototypes: Report

FAA Ends Investigations Into Crashed SpaceX Starship Prototypes: Report
Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA, Getty Images

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has ended its investigations into SpaceX’s last two Starship prototype tests, dubbed SN8 and SN9, according to CNN’s Jackie Wattles. News of the probes threw the launch of SpaceX’s SN10 prototype into legal limbo, but on Sunday CEO Elon Musk seemed confident that the matter has been resolved, tweeting that there’s a “good chance of flying this week!”

Last month, news surfaced that SpaceX violated its launch licence with its SN8 high-altitude test flight in December, which prompted a formal investigation by the FAA. The agency denied SpaceX’s proposed updates to its licence and didn’t greenlight the launch, but the company went ahead with it anyway, CNET reported. The rocket launched successfully but then exploded during a landing attempt. An FAA spokesperson now says the SN8 matter — i.e., their investigation into the licence breaking, they were apparently fine with the whole explosion part — has since been settled, according to a tweet from Wattles this week.

As for the SN9, which also exploded while trying to land during a high-altitude test earlier this month, the agency found that it “failed within the bounds of the FAA safety analysis.” It should be noted that the FAA’s SN9 investigation was a routine response to a reentry failure like the kind we saw on Feb. 2.

“The FAA closed the investigation of the Feb. 2 SpaceX Starship SN9 prototype mishap today, clearing the way for the SN10 test flight pending FAA approval of licence updates,” an agency spokesperson told Wattles on Friday. “The FAA provided oversight of the SN9 mishap investigation conducted by SpaceX. The SN9 vehicle failed within the bounds of the FAA safety analysis. Its unsuccessful landing and explosion did not endanger the public or property.”

With these investigations settled, SpaceX should be clear to launch its S10 prototype now, though it’s anyone’s guess when that’ll be. Whenever it does end up going ahead with the launch, Musk has estimated that the S10 has a 60% chance of landing successfully.

Not the worst odds I’ve ever seen. But if these spacecraft are going to “help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond,” as the company claims, they really gotta figure out this whole bursting into flames thing.