The head of the Federal Aviation Administration is optimistic that SpaceX’s Starship could blast off from Texas again as soon as next month.
“We’re working well with them and have been in good discussions,” interim FAA Administrator Polly Trottenberg told reporters Wednesday, according to Reuters.
The FAA said Friday it had closed its investigation into the “mishap” ending of Starship’s first orbital flight attempt on April 20. That test ended with the vehicle being intentionally destroyed after the first stage Super Heavy booster failed to separate from the main Starship itself.
The agency that oversees commercial spaceflight in the US sent a letter to SpaceX outlining a list of 63 corrective actions to be taken before a launch license will be issued for the next Starship orbital flight attempt.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk says most of those changes are done and he’s ready to blast off.
To be clear, the list of changes was developed in cooperation with SpaceX engineers and approved by the FAA. The way the process actually works is that SpaceX determines what it thinks caused the mishap and submits a report, including corrective actions, to the FAA. That report was submitted Aug. 21. As part of its side of the investigation, the FAA reviewed that report and sent over a final list of required changes to SpaceX last week.
“Corrective actions include redesigns of vehicle hardware to prevent leaks and fires, redesign of the launch pad to increase its robustness, incorporation of additional reviews in the design process, additional analysis and testing of safety critical systems,” the FAA said in a statement.
The agency emphasized that “the closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of Starship launches.”
Just days before the FAA announcement, SpaceX and Musk said on X (formerly Twitter) that a new Starship prototype, dubbed Ship 25, had been stacked atop a new Super Heavy booster and that the mated pair was ready to launch.
SpaceX later released a statement of its own on Friday that pinpointed the failure of the April 20 test flight.
“During ascent, the vehicle sustained fires from leaking propellant in the aft end of the Super Heavy booster, which eventually severed connection with the vehicle’s primary flight computer,” the statement reads. “This led to a loss of communications to the majority of booster engines and, ultimately, control of the vehicle.”
So when will Starship fly?
The company says it has since made numerous fixes, upgrades and other mitigations to Starship, its testing regime and its launch infrastructure. The launch pad at the SpaceX Starbase facility in south Texas was partially destroyed during the April blastoff.
Musk said Sunday on X that the SpaceX team has completed 57 of the improvements required by the FAA and that the remaining six items refer to future actions for later flights.
However, the FAA’s letter sent to SpaceX on Sept. 7, which was shared with myself and other reporters, implies that the company has not yet submitted its application for a launch license for Starship’s next attempt at reaching space.
So it appears Starship is getting closer to launching again, but there’s still some paperwork to be done. Given Trottenberg’s statement that the company and regulator are working together, it could be that the teams are working to validate the required upgrades or ensuring that everything is in order for the application for another launch license.