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FAA Concludes Investigation with 63 Corrective Actions for SpaceX

spacex starship
Image credit: SpaceX

In a recent development, Space Exploration Technologies, Inc. (SpaceX) finds itself in the spotlight as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concludes its investigation into the Starship Super Heavy launch mishap that occurred on April 20, 2023. The incident took place at SpaceX's Boca Chica, Texas launch site, resulting in a cascading series of events that led to the loss of its Starship vehicle.

The FAA officially classified the Starship launch mishap under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) § 401.7 paragraphs (2), (6), and (7), designating it as a serious operational failure. Following this classification, SpaceX was required to conduct a thorough mishap investigation in accordance with its approved mishap plan, all under FAA oversight.

The mishap investigation, which culminated in a final report dated August 21, 2023, uncovered a total of sixty-three corrective actions that SpaceX must implement. These actions span a wide range of areas, from redesigning vehicle hardware to prevent leaks and fires, reinforcing the launch pad to enhance its robustness, incorporating additional safety reviews into the design process, to conducting more extensive analysis and testing of safety-critical systems and components, including the Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS).

Moreover, SpaceX must also implement additional change control practices as part of its corrective actions to avoid any recurrence of such incidents. The mishap investigation report, which the FAA has reviewed and accepted, places a strong emphasis on identifying root causes and implementing preventive measures to ensure public safety.

SpaceX's future operations are now contingent on its ability to demonstrate compliance with these corrective actions. They must apply for a modification to their launch license VOL 23-129, which initially authorized the ill-fated launch, in order to conduct subsequent launches. The FAA will closely evaluate this modification request, ensuring that SpaceX has indeed implemented the necessary safety measures.

Failure to comply with the requirements outlined in 450.173(f) during subsequent launches will result in potential enforcement actions. However, once the FAA is satisfied that SpaceX has implemented the corrective actions necessary to ensure public safety, the company will be considered in compliance with 450.173(f).

It's important to note that the FAA's conclusion of the mishap investigation does not predetermine the outcomes of ongoing or future environmental reviews associated with SpaceX's operations at Boca Chica. These reviews will continue to assess the environmental impact of SpaceX's activities in the area, ensuring that they align with regulations and guidelines.

SpaceX's response to this mishap and its commitment to implementing corrective actions will be closely monitored by both regulators and the public, as the company continues its ambitious journey into the realm of space exploration.

On September 10th, Elon Musk took to X to unveil the comprehensive list of these 63 modifications, with an impressive 57 of them already marked as completed. This development signals that SpaceX might be edging closer to securing the necessary approvals. However, the crucial question lingers: how long will it take for the FAA to officially validate them and when will SpaceX be in a position to launch again?

corrective actions spacex

corrective actions spacex
The 63 corrective actions identified by the investigations. Credit: Elon Musk (X)

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