Elon Musk And SpaceX Tussle With The FAA Over Boca Chica Starship Launch

The company’s 28-engine rocket prototype launched without FAA approval in December. The launch of a similar craft this week ended in an explosion on landing.

By Alexandra Hart & Shelly BrisbinFebruary 5, 2021 2:33 pm,

This week SpaceX launched a Starship rocket prototype from its site in Boca Chica, Texas. The craft exploded on landing. The failure was something of a deja vu for the company. A prototype of a similar rocket crashed in December. After the first launch, SpaceX ran into trouble with the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA.

In a tweet last week, a frustrated Elon Musk, who’s the founder of SpaceX, went after the FAA, saying that its “space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure.”

Eric Berger has been reporting on the conflict between the FAA and SpaceX for Ars Technica, where he’s senior space editor. He told Texas Standard that SpaceX has been performing high-altitude tests of its Starship rocket prototypes. A flight in December ran afoul of federal regulators.

“We found out this week that SpaceX actually launched that vehicle without getting final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration,” Berger said.

When SpaceX built its Boca Chica facility, it said it would launch Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from that site. But instead, the company has focused on manufacturing Starship spacecraft, and launching those bigger vehicles from there, Berger says.

“It’s not been a bad deal economically for South Texas because it’s created 1,000 jobs,” he said.

The FAA wants to reign in Starship launches because it hasn’t fully studied the impact of the 28-engine rockets on the Boca Chica area.

“Last year it decided it was going to reopen the review process and make sure that it was a suitable location for this to happen. And that review is still ongoing,” Berger said.

Musk is no fan of regulation. He connected his recent move to Texas with a desire to get out from under regulations imposed by other states. Though the FAA hadn’t approved the December launch, SpaceX was approved for this week’s Starship launch.

“The bottom line, however, is that the FAA would like to see commercial spaceflight activity, and so they’re going to do what they can to sort of push this process along,” Berger said.

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