FAA: SpaceX Launched Starship SN8 Without Approval

Starship SN8 explodes on impact. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has provided more information on SpaceX’s SN8 launch in December and the delay in issuing a license for the SN9 flight conducted yesterday. Basically, the agency says SpaceX proceeded with the December launch without approval, but it is not fining the company for the violation.

FAA Statement on Starship SN8 Launch

Regarding the SpaceX Starship SN8 launch in December 2020, the company proceeded with the launch without demonstrating that the public risk from far field blast overpressure was within the regulatory criteria specified by 14 CFR § 431.35(b)(1)(i).

The FAA required SpaceX to conduct an investigation of the incident, including a comprehensive review of the company’s safety culture, operational decision-making and process discipline. All testing that could affect public safety at the Boca Chica launch site was suspended until the investigation was completed and the FAA approved the company’s corrective actions.

With respect to potential enforcement action, the FAA’s compliance monitoring and enforcement is designed to modify behavior to comply with federal safety regulations. It also has various enforcement tools available to ensure satisfactory public safety results.

The FAA-approved corrective actions implemented by SpaceX enhanced public safety. Those actions were incorporated into today’s SN9 launch. We anticipate taking no further enforcement action on SN8 matter.

New Video of SpaceX Starship Flight

Video Caption: On December 9, 2020, Starship serial number 8 (SN8) completed a high-altitude flight test as it successfully ascended, transitioned propellant, and demonstrated a first-of-its-kind controlled aerodynamic descent and landing flip maneuver – which will enable landing where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, including the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Starship Flies, Explodes While Attempting to Land

Starship SN8 takes off from Boca Chica, Texas. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX flew its Starship SN8 vehicle for nearly seven minutes on Wednesday, but the ship exploded as it attempted to land at the test site in Boca Chica, Texas.

Starship SN8 in flight. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

The vehicle flew vertically, powered by three Raptor engines. One engine stopped, and then a second one stopped firing, leaving a sole Raptor to power the flight.

Starship SN8 flies on one engine. (Credit: SpaceX website)

“Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted.

Starship SN8 in glide mode. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Starship then pitched and glided to its landing area. However, SN8 was not able to right itself using engine power before it struck the ground at 6 minutes 42 seconds into the flight.

Starship SN8 explodes on impact. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

“Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed! Congrats SpaceX team hell yeah!!” Musk tweeted.

Prior to the flight test, Musk had estimated that SN8 had about a 30 percent chance of landing successfully.

SN8 was the latest in a series of Starship prototypes. SpaceX wants to use Starship and the Super Heavy rocket to launch crewed missions to the moon and Mars, satellites into orbit, and rapid point-to-point flights between distant locations on Earth.