In April, SpaceX’s Starship vehicle lifted off the pad for the first time in its inaugural test flight but came to a dramatic end when it exploded in the air shortly after liftoff. SpaceX has been preparing to fly the Starship again, but another test flight won’t happen just yet as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has grounded the rocket following a recent investigation.
As reported by The Guardian, the FAA recently completed its investigation into April’s test flight and found the vehicle’s explosion was due to multiple factors. The company has now been presented with a lift of 63 corrective steps it will have to perform before the Starship is allowed to fly again.
The original test flight was contentious, being hailed both as a great success due to the rocket making it into the air, and also called a failure due to the rocket’s explosion. SpaceX has proven itself willing to take risks and to test its prototypes early, which has frequently led to dramatic explosions but has arguably helped the company to push its development at a higher pace.
The April Starship test, however, was particularly contentious due to issues like an insufficient launch pad which crumbled under the forces of launch, throwing up huge clouds of dust and debris. Local residents and environmental groups voiced their concerns about the impact of the tests, and Musk acknowledged that there had been a plan to cool the launch pad with a steel plate, but that was abandoned when it was not ready in time for the launch.
The FAA took issue with the launch pad as well as other safety systems, requiring these to be improved before another Starship flight. “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 and components including the Autonomous Flight Safety System, and the application of additional change control practices,” officials wrote in a statement.
The corrective actions may not take that long to complete, however, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has stated that “thousands of upgrades” to Starship either have been made or are planned.