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SpaceX ignored last-minute warnings from the FAA before December Starship launch


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Wayne Monteith
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SOURCE: https://www.theverge.com/2021/6/15/22352366/elon-musk-spacex-faa-warnings-starship-sn8-launch-violation-texas
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Summary

Filed under:Elon Musk’s company was told SN8’s launch would violate its FAA license, but SpaceX launched anywayMinutes before liftoff, Elon Musk’s SpaceX ignored at least two warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration that launching its first high-altitude Starship prototype last December would violate the company’s launch license, confidential documents and letters obtained by The Verge show. But a confidential five-page report by SpaceX and letters between Shotwell and Monteith reveal what SpaceX employees knew before liftoff and detail how the company responded to its violation in the aftermath.SpaceX first attempted to launch SN8 at SpaceX’s South Texas Starship campus on December 8th with FAA approval, but it scrubbed due to an engine issue. As the launch clock was counting down, SpaceX staff in the meeting made little progress — 15 minutes before liftoff, “the FAA informed SpaceX that the weather data provided was not sufficient.” The same safety risk remained, and SN8 wasn’t cleared for launch.SpaceX employees left the FAA meeting for the company’s launch control room ahead of SN8’s launch. The company is building a database of wind patterns over Boca Chica to help inform its launch day weather modeling, using an experimental tool to gather wind speed data, according to a document the company filed with the Federal Communications Commission in April.But new weather tools won’t change Musk’s Twitter presence, a concern for agency officials and lawmakers who worry the CEO’s candid tweets influence SpaceX employees and put unfair pressure on launch safety processes.As the FAA’s review of SpaceX’s safety culture investigation was nearing completion in late January, holding up the company’s SN9 launch for a few days, Musk tweeted that the FAA’s “space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure” and that, under its rules, “humanity will never get to Mars.” An FAA spokesman replied, saying the agency “will not compromise its responsibility to protect public safety.”The House transportation committee that oversees the FAA opened its own probe into SpaceX’s SN8 violation in February as well as “the FAA’s subsequent response, and the pressure exerted on the FAA during high profile launches,” chairs of the committee and its aviation subcommittee wrote to the agency’s administrator Steve Dickson.

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