FAA to oversee investigation of SpaceX Starship's 3rd test flight

Calling this a "mishap" is definitely bureaucratic over-reach. What happened is no worse than some other company launching expendable vehicle stages, which are not "mishaps" when they break-up on re-entry. There is no additional risk to the public from SpaceX trying to do more control on the way down. And neither of the stages was intended to be recovered. This is a test program, and it needs to be reviewed as such.

So, for instance, if SpaceX decides that it needs more data to figure out how to do better at controlling the re-entry and wants to simply re-fly the same mission with new vehicles and some better methods of collecting data during re-entry, will FAA accept that? Or will FAA insist that no more flights are allowed until SpaceX claims to have already solved the engineering problems that this flight was researching?

FAA is probably thinking that SpaceX will not sue them in court to get them off its back, because the FAA has the power to shut down all of SpaceX's activities in space until such a court suit is settled, and the FAA could drag that out for a decade if angered. It probably is figuring that it will get away with being an over-reaching pest because it is not the worst thing they can do. But, somebody else in government may need to step in an give the FAA some "guidance" on what its real mission is with respect to protecting the public from aviation (and space) activity hazards.
 
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Calling this a "mishap" is definitely bureaucratic over-reach. What happened is no worse than some other company launching expendable vehicle stages, which are not "mishaps" when they break-up on re-entry. There is no additional risk to the public from SpaceX trying to do more control on the way down. And neither of the stages was intended to be recovered. This is a test program, and it needs to be reviewed as such.

So, for instance, if SpaceX decides that it needs more data to figure out how to do better at controlling the re-entry and wants to simply re-fly the same mission with new vehicles and some better methods of collecting data during re-entry, will FAA accept that? Or will FAA insist that no more flights are allowed until SpaceX claims to have already solved the engineering problems that this flight was researching?

FAA is probably thinking that SpaceX will not sue them in court to get them off its back, because the FAA has the power to shut down all of SpaceX's activities in space until such a court suit is settled, and the FAA could drag that out for a decade if angered. It probably is figuring that it will get away with being an over-reaching pest because it is not the worst thing they can do. But, somebody else in government may need to step in an give the FAA some "guidance" on what its real mission is with respect to protecting the public from aviation (and space) activity hazards.
Yeah, when the 1st few attempts at landing the SH and Starship result is explosions, does that trigger year long investigations? Seems likely considering the current pace.
 
FAA definitely has a role to play when it comes to Star Ship and Super heavy returning to some sort of crewed base, whether it is at Boca Chica of Kennedy Spaceflight Center. And, they should review the types of failures that occurred during the development process and the engineered solutions to those failures before certifying those vehicles to come down where they can be a hazard. But, that is not what they are doing at this point - they are involving themselves in the SpaceX development process as if this is aircraft test flights with pilots.
 
Well, that was exciting, congrats to SpaceX!

Halving the propellant load time and showing robustness of both engines (all 33 on booster started again) and hot staging (it worked again) was progress. It was especially nice to see the pink of a nitrogen plasma, and how it was concurrent with the Karman line at 100 km.

The flight attitude instability of both booster (oscillations) and ship (roll) may have contributed to their respective demise (likely propellant sloshing respective exposing unshielded surfaces).

Calling this a "mishap" is definitely bureaucratic over-reach. ...

FAA is probably thinking that SpaceX will not sue them in court to get them off its back, because the FAA has the power to shut down all of SpaceX's activities in space until such a court suit is settled, and the FAA could drag that out for a decade if angered. It probably is figuring that it will get away with being an over-reaching pest because it is not the worst thing they can do. But, somebody else in government may need to step in an give the FAA some "guidance" on what its real mission is with respect to protecting the public from aviation (and space) activity hazards.
Enough with the conspiracy theories already!

You yourself recognize that FAA mission, which they exercise when they launch mishap investigations, is precisely that of protecting the public.

The FAA is responsible for protecting the public during commercial space transportation launch and reentry operations. Public safety is at the core of the FAA licensing or permitting process; of the safety inspections conducted before, during and after a launch or reentry; and of the investigation and corrective actions following a mishap event.

What constitutes a mishap?​

What constitutes a mishap varies somewhat based on whether a valid FAA launch or reentry license was issued under the new regulations (14 CFR Part 450) or the prior regulations (14 CFR Part 415, 431, or 435). All FAA issued commercial space licenses will be subject to the same definition of a mishap no later than March 2026.

For licenses issued under 14 CFR Part 450:

The new FAA regulations describe nine events (see below) that would constitute a mishap (14 CFR 401.7). The occurrence of any of these events, singly or in any combination, during the scope of FAA-authorized commercial space activities constitutes a mishap and must be reported to the FAA (14 CFR 450.173(c)).

  • Serious injury or fatality
  • Malfunction of a safety-critical system
  • Failure of a safety organization, safety operations or safety procedures
  • High risk of causing a serious or fatal injury to any space flight participant, crew, government astronaut, or member of the public
  • Substantial damage to property not associated with the activity
  • Unplanned substantial damage to property associated with the activity
  • Unplanned permanent loss of the vehicle
  • Impact of hazardous debris outside of defined areas
  • Failure to complete a launch or reentry as planned
https://www.faa.gov/space/compliance_enforcement_mishap

The occurrences that made FAA launch a mishap investigations should be:
  • Unplanned permanent loss of the vehicle
  • Impact of hazardous debris outside of defined areas
  • Failure to complete a launch or reentry as planned
Let the administration do their work.

[As an aside, it is really funny for outsiders to see how the US failure to separate the government from the administration makes such a mess that even the public asks for the government to be corrupted (take direct action in administrative issues). No wonder that you like to spend so much time in litigation!]
 
Using the criteria you posted, this is not a mishap.

The vehicles were intended to be "lost".
The vehicles did not impact outside of the predefined areas.
The launch and reentry both occurred as planned.

Case should be closed, as I already posted.

The FAA is basing its "mishap" on the ways in which the vehicles were "lost", but that is the way that other vehicles are always "lost", and they are not investigating those "mishaps". So why is trying to control something that is not usually controlled at all considered a "mishap" while the process is only being tried for the first time and is not fully successful?

Unless you can show me some hazard created by flight 3 that was not already within the envelope of approved events, then you really have no legitimate case.

And, there is no "conspiracy theory" involved in my statement. We know the facts of what happened and we know what the FAA is doing.
 
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This vehicle is huge and heavy and can cause a lot of casualties on earth surface even when flying without a crew.
But that was known before the flight, and the flight was approved.

The question is what happened in this flight which creates more risk to the public than what was already approved. I have not seen anything that fits that description.

In the first flight, clearly the damage to the craft from the damage to the pad, plus the delay in the destruct process, were the types of events that should be and were investigated by the FAA with corrective actions required before allowing another test.

But, based on the data that has been published so far, I am not seeing anything in this third flight that fits the criteria of suggesting sources or levels of risk to the public that have not already been approved.
 
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I don't see this as a "mishap" either. I wish I had more data. If the booster was oscillating, it could be propellant sloshing. If it "broke up", could that be the FTS determining the downward velocity was not decreasing within spec due to lack of the landing burn? As to the Starship, could the cargo door not closing have caused the roll seen, so the heaviest heat shield tiles did not absorb the heating the way they were supposed to? Might they need heavier tiles? Since SpaceX is supposed to be developing the lunar landing craft for Artemis, maybe Congress should step in and tell FAA to straighten up and fly right on a development program.
 
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Calling this a "mishap" is definitely bureaucratic over-reach. What happened is no worse than some other company launching expendable vehicle stages, which are not "mishaps" when they break-up on re-entry. There is no additional risk to the public from SpaceX trying to do more control on the way down. And neither of the stages was intended to be recovered. This is a test program, and it needs to be reviewed as such.

So, for instance, if SpaceX decides that it needs more data to figure out how to do better at controlling the re-entry and wants to simply re-fly the same mission with new vehicles and some better methods of collecting data during re-entry, will FAA accept that? Or will FAA insist that no more flights are allowed until SpaceX claims to have already solved the engineering problems that this flight was researching?

FAA is probably thinking that SpaceX will not sue them in court to get them off its back, because the FAA has the power to shut down all of SpaceX's activities in space until such a court suit is settled, and the FAA could drag that out for a decade if angered. It probably is figuring that it will get away with being an over-reaching pest because it is not the worst thing they can do. But, somebody else in government may need to step in an give the FAA some "guidance" on what its real mission is with respect to protecting the public from aviation (and space) activity hazards.
I'm not sure I would call it bureaucratic overreach. The fact is that Space X will already be analysing the data and making their own list of corrective actions internally. The FAA don't lead the investigation, they review and sign off on Space X's own mishap report (assuming of course it meets the FAA's requirements).
The full mission goals included a soft splash landing for super heavy and a hard splash landing for the ship. Although they were optimistic - ideal scenario - goals, they were the approved and licensed mission goals. RUD of either vehicle will always be considered a mishap and needs investigating by Space X and by the designated public safety authorities (FAA).
 
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Regarding the development process, there was some discussion on the live broadcast commentary about Super Heavy, (and maybe StarShip ?) using the vents for the cryogenic propellants for attitude control of the vehicle(s?) and some wonder about the ice that forms doing that potentially fouling up the process. I was thinking about valves getting stuck by icing as I heard the discussion. So, maybe the vehicles are going to need more engineered attitude control thrusters to be able to adequately control the fuel positioning in tanks as well as the roll and potential tumble parameters. The engineering is not difficult - it is routinely done for other space vehicles. But, it would need to be bigger for such large vehicles and it will add weight.
 
The issue is not that FAA is analyzing the data, it is that it is withholding approval for further launches until it decides to "approve" what SpaceX has done to prevent recurrence of something that did not go as hoped, even if it went as planned for within safety bounds. As I posted earlier, if SpaceX decides it needs better info to design a fix and wants to simply re-fly the last mission with better data collection, that doesn't "fix" the "problem" that the FAA is seeing as a "mishap". But, for FAA to not approve a re-fly of the last mission is also effectively saying that they made a mistake in approving that one. The point should be whether there was anything that was unexpected and if that created a level of risk to the public that is unacceptable to be repeated.

The problem is that FAA doesn't seem to be considering the actual public risk level as part of its process. Having worked for a Federal regulatory agency (not FAA) and been heavily involved in developing and practicing new processes that include the level of public risk for deciding where to focus response efforts on "events" and where to not be concerned, I can see that the FAA needs to consider such things. Customary regulatory practices can be wrong in either direction, sometimes wasting effort and sometimes missing things that need better attention.
 

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Well, that was exciting, congrats to SpaceX!

Halving the propellant load time and showing robustness of both engines (all 33 on booster started again) and hot staging (it worked again) was progress. It was especially nice to see the pink of a nitrogen plasma, and how it was concurrent with the Karman line at 100 km.

The flight attitude instability of both booster (oscillations) and ship (roll) may have contributed to their respective demise (likely propellant sloshing respective exposing unshielded surfaces).


Enough with the conspiracy theories already!

You yourself recognize that FAA mission, which they exercise when they launch mishap investigations, is precisely that of protecting the public.


https://www.faa.gov/space/compliance_enforcement_mishap

The occurrences that made FAA launch a mishap investigations should be:

Let the administration do their work.

[As an aside, it is really funny for outsiders to see how the US failure to separate the government from the administration makes such a mess that even the public asks for the government to be corrupted (take direct action in administrative issues). No wonder that you like to spend so much time in litigation!]
Thanks for your insight into the rules and regs under which the FAA operates and which they use to define a 'mishap'. However, I didn't find that any of those criteria applied to the 3rd test, and even the 2nd test, including the 3 you noted as applicable. For example:
1) Unplanned permanent loss of the vehicle:
The loss of the vehicle was not unplanned. It was always planned to expend and not recover the vehicle. It would have been very much unplanned had the vehicle survived to perform a soft ocean landing, and even in that unlikely event, the vehicle would not have been recovered.
2) Impact of hazardous debris outside of defined areas:
As far as I know, the booster came down and became 'expended' within the control area over the Gulf. The Star Ship I think it came down a little early as a result of scrubbing a test firing of the Star Ship engines while in space. But that was a controlled decision made to scrub the test, not an accident. So again, debris was not hazardous or outside defined areas as a result of an accident.
3) Failure to complete a launch or reentry as planned:
The launch went without a hitch, and reentry occurred as planned since the plan was to re-enter the atmosphere and proceed as far as possible before the planned destruction of the vehicle, and that's what happened. Destruction happened at the top of the atmosphere rather than closer to the ocean, but what's unplanned here?
>>so, what's to investigate? Where's the mishap under the FAA regulations? I still don't get it!
 
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I don't see this as a "mishap" either. I wish I had more data. If the booster was oscillating, it could be propellant sloshing. If it "broke up", could that be the FTS determining the downward velocity was not decreasing within spec due to lack of the landing burn? As to the Starship, could the cargo door not closing have caused the roll seen, so the heaviest heat shield tiles did not absorb the heating the way they were supposed to? Might they need heavier tiles? Since SpaceX is supposed to be developing the lunar landing craft for Artemis, maybe Congress should step in and tell FAA to straighten up and fly right on a development program.
That's my hope as well. If FAA's bias / intention is as it often seems (determined to remind Elon that he's got to play by their rules), one would think they'd be effectively handcuffing Artemis program's progress to their spiteful, drawn-out investigation of Elon's big 400ft tall baby. The reason for "hope" would be two of the federal government's agencies' conflicting interests resulting in Feds forcing a removal or reduction of FAA's bureaucratic barriers. Of course, I also have no idea what that removal would look in practice.

One could also assume incompetence instead of ascribing malice -- since when do government agencies hum like a well-oiled, efficient machine? Head of FAA, in a moment of ostensible honesty, chalked up lack of progress in their previous Starship investigation to a manpower bottleneck and inability to process the workload in a timely fashion. I'm inclined to believe her (to some extent).
 
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The FAA will oversee a SpaceX-led investigation into what happened on the third test flight of the company's Starship megarocket, which occurred March 14.

FAA to oversee investigation of SpaceX Starship's 3rd test flight : Read more
The FAA will oversee SpaceX investigation and delay the next launch. What does the government think that SpaceX is going to not fix things and just keep crashing rockets. Is that what they did with the rockets they launch last year, almost 100 no problem. Do they really want the Chinese on the moon before us? If they think the South China Sea is a problem, wait and see what happens on the moon. FAA isn't doing the investigation they are overseeing SpaceX's investigation which is what they do after every launch. They don't need to oversee but they do because they have no idea how the rockets really work. Their clueless and just a nuisance.
 
Great posts
(But too much on legal and nomenclature!)
  • First of All let us congratulate SpaceX for unprecedented engineering feats that are being achieved.
  • We are fortunate to witness next generation to Saturn V.
  • We are seeing 2/3 of height of the Washington Monument being lifted.
  • We are progressing to see a vehicle namely STARSHIP III and onwards become operational for Lunar and Mars Human missions, no joke for future human accomplishments.
  • As part of responsible governance, few checks and balances relating to human and infrastructure safety, funding agency NASA and FAA for safe transitions to and from space to surface of earth are playing their part but sometimes words such as Mishap are not correct categories.
  • Lt us accept all accomplishments as "Work in Progress" till STARSHIP is operational like Falcon is or Saturn was.
Best wishes and Godspeed SpaceX!

Ravi
(Dr. Ravi Sharma, Ph.D. USA)
NASA Apollo Achievement Award
ISRO Distinguished Service Awards
Former MTS NASA HQ MSEB Apollo
Former Scientific Secretary ISRO HQ
Ontolog Board of Trustees
Particle and Space Physics
Senior Enterprise Architect
SAE Fuel Cell Tech Committee voting member for 20 years.
http://www.linkedin.com/in/drravisharma
 
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An argument could be made that, since SpaceX will be assisting in Artemis, the FAA is, o the federal government's behalf, exercising the due diligence of a contractor over a supplier. But that would seem to be a task better suited to NASA, while an agency tasked with overseeing public safety regarding American air travel is out of its area of expertise, out of its depth, and (increasingly) out of its jurisdiction, especially given that nothing of what went "wrong" on the flight occurred within American airspace; in fact, all but the first few seconds of the flight were out of the FAA's jurisdiction. If the FAA's "investigations" become less of an annoyance and begin to hamstring SpaceX's development, Elon Musk certainly has the resources and, increasingly, the ability, to move the operation offshore into international waters, should they supply the incentive.

As for "conspiracy theories" (often better referred to as "spoilers" these days) one has to wonder if Jeff Bezos, owner of the administration-friendly Washington Post, would get the same scrutiny for Blue Origin that Musk has seen since purchasing Twitter..