The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday that SpaceX is not yet clear for another test flight of its Starship Super Heavy launch vehicle.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had claimed Tuesday, in a post on X (formerly Twitter) which he now owns, that “Starship is ready to launch, awaiting FAA license approval.”
However, his aerospace and defense company hasn’t met the FAA’s requirements to be able to fly again after an explosion in April 2023 during the first test flight of this vehicle.
The first Starship launch saw the nearly 400-foot-tall rocket fly for more than three minutes — but it lost multiple engines, caused severe damage to the ground infrastructure and failed to reach space after the rocket began to tumble and was intentionally destroyed in the air.
The mishap left a crater in the ground, flung concrete chunks into nearby tanks and other equipment, and impacted sensitive habitat that is home to some endangered wildlife. It also sparked an approximately 4-acre fire on state park land.
The Starship launch “anomaly” triggered a mishap investigation that will be overseen by the FAA — a standard practice by the agency, which is responsible for protecting the public during commercial space transportation launch and reentry operations.
In a statement sent to CNBC on Wednesday night, the FAA said: “The SpaceX Starship mishap investigation remains open. The FAA will not authorize another Starship launch until SpaceX implements the corrective actions identified during the mishap investigation and demonstrates compliance with all the regulatory requirements of the license modification process.”
Ars Technica first reported on the matter. SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In July, the FAA was asked to deliver a briefing to the Senate and House appropriations committees on their mishap report, before SpaceX conducts any future Starship Super Heavy launches.
NASA is currently reliant on SpaceX alone to transport people from the U.S. into orbit. With its Starship program, SpaceX is aiming to move heavy science equipment into orbit, and to economically transport higher volumes of cargo and people to the Moon and eventually Mars.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Musk, who is the largest shareholder of SpaceX, tapped a $1 billion loan from the company last year the same month he was completing a leveraged buyout of social network Twitter.
The SpaceX CEO’s relationship with state and federal regulators and with certain members of Congress is a tense one.
Musk has flouted FAA requirements in recent years, for example. The New Yorker reported that in December 2020, Musk pushed SpaceX to go against the agency’s orders and conduct a test flight of a rocket called the SN8 on a date for which the agency had explicitly barred that activity. The SN8 rocket exploded.
More recently, SpaceX conducted several tests of a new, water deluge system at the Starship Super Heavy launch site in South Texas. The system is meant to keep the company’s launch pad cool during launches.
However, SpaceX built and conducted tests of the water deluge system all without obtaining the environmental permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that would normally be required to discharge industrial wastewater at the site.