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The Federal Aviation Administration has closed the mishap investigation into SpaceX’s first orbital test flight in April, but regulators won’t green light a second launch until the company completes more than 60 “corrective actions.”
While the FAA did not disclose the details of the 63 actions SpaceX must take before launching Starship again, the agency did provide a list of just some of what’s expected, including vehicle hardware redesigns, redesigns to the launch pad and additional analysis and testing of safety critical systems.
Once SpaceX has implemented all of the corrective actions -- and only at this point -- it can apply for and receive a modified license from the FAA to launch Starship again.
"The closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of Starship launches at Boca Chica," the agency said, referring to SpaceX's massive Starship development and launch facility in southeast Texas.
In an auspiciously timed update posted to its website, SpaceX said the “lessons learned” from the first Starship launch are contributing to “several upgrades” to the vehicle and ground infrastructure.
“This rapid iterative development approach has been the basis for all of SpaceX’s major innovative advancements, including Falcon, Dragon, and Starlink,” the company said in the update.
SpaceX said it was also implementing upgrades that are unrelated to any issues with the first flight test. Those include a new electric Thruster Vector Control system for Super Heavy’s engines, as well as a so-called “hot-stage” separation system, which involves the Starship second-stage engines igniting to push away from the booster.
However, the company did not specifically discuss any corrective action, so it's still unclear how far along SpaceX might be on that 63-point list -- and how close it might be to launching Starship again.
The FAA’s statement that SpaceX has remaining items to correct seems to contradict what SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Tuesday. In a post to X, formerly known as Twitter, he said, "Starship is ready to launch, awaiting FAA license approval," with no mention of any remaining corrective actions or upgrades to make.
SpaceX conducted the first orbital flight test of the 394-foot-tall Starship on April 20. During that launch, the incredible thrust from the Super Heavy booster’s 33 Raptor engines wreaked havoc on the launch pad, kicking up chunks of concrete and sand that blew for miles into the surrounding area. Once the rocket was in the air, engine after engine went offline, leading SpaceX to issue an auto-destruct command that caused the rocket to blow-up midair around four minutes after launch.
Hence the mishap investigation.
Mishap investigations are the normal course of action for rocket launches that go awry. They’re led by the company (in this case, SpaceX) and overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that regulates launch safety. The FAA said the investigation contains proprietary information, and thus it won’t be released to the public.