Minutes after a seemingly successful landing, SpaceX’s Starship rocket exploded on the pad

starship sn10 landing
The SN10 reignites its three Raptor engines to upright itself and land in this screengrab from a SpaceX livestream.

SpaceX finally launched a prototype of its Starship rocket miles into the air on Wednesday, then landed it successfully. But 10 minutes later, the rocket exploded.

The roughly 16-story test vehicle – called Starship serial No. 10, or SN10 – lifted off at at 5:14 p.m. on Wednesday. As it climbed, it shut off one engine and then another. The rocket hovered at the peak of its flight for about 30 seconds, then cut its last engine, tipped over, and belly-flopped toward the ground. 

As it neared the ground, the Raptor engines reignited, flipped SN10 upright, and slowly lowered it to the landing pad.

“Third time’s the charm, as the saying goes,” John Insprucker, SpaceX’s principal integration engineer, declared on the company’s livestream.

But a fire persisted around the rocket’s skirt. Then about 10 minutes later, an explosion thrust SN10 back into the air, leaving it in pieces on the landing pad.

The prototype’s predecessors, SN8 and SN9, completed similar high-altitude flights but flubbed their landings. They each slammed into the landing pad and immediately blew up. Still, those flights – and this one – demonstrated that Starship could rocket to high altitudes and control its plummet back to Earth. On Wednesday, SN10 showed that it can land on the ground in one piece, too – at least initially.

A 2-part, fully reusable launch system

sn10 starship
The SN10 lands in one piece on SpaceX’s Boca Chica landing pad, in this screengrab from the test flight livestream.

SpaceX broadcast the test flight, which you can watch in the YouTube video below, minus the delayed explosion. To start, Starship’s three truck-sized Raptor engines roared to life, heaved it off the ground, and rumbled past the launchpad at SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, a remote strip of land in southeastern Texas. After it began its descent, two aerodynamic wing flaps at the rocket’s nosecone and two at its base – operated by an on-board computer – moved independently to control SN10’s fall and maintain its belly-flop position.

SN10 is the upper stage of a system designed to have two parts: A roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would one day heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit.

If it works, the Starship-Super Heavy launch system could slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold, since it would eliminate the need to build new rockets and spaceships for each spaceflight. Musk wants to construct a fleet of reusable Starships to power round-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, fly astronauts to the moon, and one day carry people to Mars.

An eventual flight to low-Earth orbit

illustration starship spaceship rocket ship super heavy booster launching clouds looking down earth spacex
An illustration of SpaceX’s Starship spaceship and Super Heavy rocket booster launching together toward space.

Once SpaceX figures out how Starship can nail its launch and landing, the company will want to rocket a prototype into orbit to test its ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. That will require a new type of launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration, but obtaining it involves clearing many regulatory hurdles, including a thorough environmental assessment. Depending on the findings of that assessment, it’s possible SpaceX may need to conduct a new environmental impact statement, which could take up to three years.

Complicating matters is a leaked FAA draft document obtained by Insider, which revealed that SpaceX plans to dig natural gas wells and build gas-fired power plants in Boca Chica. Such plans could prolong SpaceX’s environmental review process.

Musk and the FAA have clashed before: SpaceX launched its first high-altitude Starship flight, for its SN8 prototype, without FAA approval, which triggered an investigation.

starhip sn8 nosecone spacex boca chica test flight explosion
The nosecone of the Starship prototype SN8 after it exploded during a test flight, December 10, 2020.

That inquiry was still ongoing, as was another investigation into the causes of SN8’s explosive landing, at the time SpaceX wanted to launch its next Starship prototype, SN9. In January, SpaceX announced that the SN9 was about to fly. But as the rocket sat ready on the launchpad, the FAA suddenly yanked the airspace closure that made way for the rocket’s path. There was no launch that day.

In response to the delay, Musk railed against the FAA on Twitter, saying its space division had “a fundamentally broken regulatory structure” and that “humanity will never get to Mars” under its rules.

The following week, the FAA approved the SN9 launch license updates and gave SpaceX the green light. The rocket soared and crashed, much like its predecessor.

Musk says he is “highly confident” SpaceX will launch an uncrewed Starship to Mars in 2024, followed by a crewed mission in 2026.

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Watch live: SpaceX is launching a new Starship rocket prototype. The last 2 attempts ended in explosions.

elon musk spacex starship explosion thumb 4x3
SpaceX’s Starship SN9 prototype failed to ignite one of its engines upon landing, so it slammed into the ground and exploded on February 2, 2021.

SpaceX plans to rocket its latest Starship prototype tens of thousands of feet into the air on Wednesday afternoon.

The challenge is landing it back on the ground – that maneuver has ended in explosion both times the company previously attempted it. This time, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that the prototype has a 60% chance of a successful landing.

The prototype represents the upper stage of a two-part system: Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. Musk’s long-term vision is for the system to one day fly astronauts to the moon and power hypersonic travel on Earth. He has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships in order to carry people and cargo to Mars.

starship sn10 spadre
The SN10 prototype at SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.

But first, SpaceX has to figure out how to land the rocket, since that is critical to making the system reusable. Full reusability could help Starship slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold.

The newest prototype is called Starship serial No. 10, or SN10. SpaceX is preparing to launch it at about 4:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday.

A flight computer automatically aborted an attempt to lift off earlier in the afternoon, at 2:14 p.m. The abort was due to a “slightly conservative high thrust limit,” Musk said on Twitter. “Increasing thrust limit & recycling propellant for another flight attempt today.”

When it does lift off, SN10 should roar nearly 33,000 feet above SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. Then one by one, it should shut off its engines as it nears the peak of its flight, flip sideways, and plummet back to Earth in a controlled belly flop. As it nears the ground, the rocket should fire its engines once again to flip itself upright in time to slow its descent and touch down gently on the landing pad.

The last two times SpaceX conducted such a flight, the prototypes slammed into their landing pads and exploded.

SPadre.com captured the second incident from a camera on top of a building about 6 miles away:

 

Watch SN10’s launch attempt live 

SpaceX will start a new live feed a few minutes before launch. We will embed that video below once it’s available. In the meantime, fans of the company are also on the ground and streaming their own live video of the launch site.

We recommend starting with NASASpaceflight‘s video stream, given the broadcasters’ knowledge and multiple quality camera views.

The commentators on the feed keep track of preparations at the SpaceX facilities that indicate progress toward liftoff – things like clearing the launchpad, activity in the tank farm next to SN10, and the loading of liquid propellant into the rocket. 

LabPadre offers six unique views of the Starship launch site. Below is the channel’s main 4K-resolution feed.

For a more distant view of the launch site – broadcast from the top of a hotel resort in South Padre Island about 6 miles away – check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also issued airspace-closure notices for the area from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. CT on Thursday and Friday – backup dates in case weather or technical issues cause SpaceX to scrub the Wednesday attempt. Likewise, Cameron County has given notice that a nearby road will be closed on those days, which is another prerequisite for launch.

SpaceX faces regulatory hurdles to get Starship to orbit

starhip sn8 nosecone spacex boca chica test flight explosion
The nosecone of the Starship prototype SN8 after it exploded during a test flight, December 10, 2020.

SpaceX’s two previous test flights – those of prototypes SN8 and SN9 – were considered successes despite their explosive endings. That’s because they demonstrated that Starship is capable of rocketing to suborbital heights and then controlling its fall.

However, those flights both resulted in FAA investigations, since the agency wanted to determine the cause of the explosions. It turned out that SN8 had fallen victim to low pressure in a propellant tank, which led the spaceship to fall too fast and slam into its landing pad. An additional issue with that attempt was that SpaceX hadn’t gotten the proper FAA approval, violating its launch license.

This triggered its own investigation, which then held up the SN9 flight. Once that prototype did fly, one of its three Raptor engines failed to relight as the rocket neared the ground.

All those investigations have been closed, an FAA spokesperson told CNN reporter Jackie Wattles. And the launch-license updates for the SN10 flight are approved, according to Washington Post reporter Christian Davenport.

Eventually, SpaceX will want to rocket a Starship into orbit to test its ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. That will require a different type of FAA license, but obtaining it means clearing many regulatory hurdles, including a thorough environmental assessment. (The environmental impact statement SpaceX previously completed for Boca Chica launches focused on the company’s smaller rockets, rather than its larger Starship-Super Heavy system.)

The company is waiting to start that environmental assessment, but depending on the findings, it’s possible SpaceX may need to conduct a new impact statement, which could take up to three years. Complicating matters is a leaked FAA draft document, obtained by Insider, which revealed that SpaceX plans to dig natural gas wells in Boca Chica to fuel Starships and on-site power plants. Such plans could affect SpaceX’s environmental review process.

This story has been updated. It was originally published on February 23, 2021. 

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Delta passenger faces $27,500 fine for hitting flight attendant in face mask dispute with fellow passenger

Delta Air Lines
File photo of Delta Air Lines plane taking off from Miami International Airport, Florida on August 20, 2012.

  • The unnamed passenger had been traveling on Flight 1997 from Miami to Atlanta on October 19.
  • Their neighboring passenger refused to follow instructions and the flight returned to the gate.
  • Both were asked to leave the plane and a flight attendant was struck in the argument that followed.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A Delta Air Lines passenger is facing a $27,500 fine for hitting a flight attendant, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The unnamed passenger traveled on a flight from Miami to Atlanta on October 19 and was sitting next to a passenger who refused to wear his mask, secure his tray table, or fasten his seatbelt.

As a result, Flight 1997 was forced to return to the gate and both the unruly passenger and their neighbor were asked to leave the plane. 

However, the FAA said: “In response, the passenger accompanying the non-compliant traveler ignored the flight attendant’s instructions, began yelling expletives at the flight attendant and other passengers, and struck the flight attendant under her left eye.”

In January, the FAA announced a stricter unruly passenger policy after dealing with over 1,300 cases in the past 10 years, including recent, violent refusals to wear face masks.

Now, passengers who interfere with, attack, or threaten to physically assault aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft now face fines of up to $35,000 as well as potential imprisonment.

In a statement at the time, Delta said: “There is nothing more important than the safety of our people and customers.

“That’s why two customers who did not comply with crew safety instructions were asked to deplane Flight 1997 this evening.

“We do not tolerate violence of any kind and this situation is currently under investigation.”

The passenger facing the $27,500 fine now has 30 days to respond to the FAA’s enforcement letter.

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SpaceX is about to reattempt a high-altitude flight of its Starship rocket. The last 2 prototypes blew up.

elon musk spacex starship explosion thumb 4x3
SpaceX’s Starship SN9 prototype failed to ignite one of its engines upon landing, so it slammed into the ground and exploded on February 2, 2021.

SpaceX is preparing to rocket its latest Starship prototype tens of thousands of feet into the air as early as this week.

The challenge is landing it back on the ground – that maneuver has ended in explosion both times the company previously attempted it. This time around, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that the prototype has a 60% chance of a successful landing.

The prototype represents the upper stage of a two-part system: Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the Starship spaceship toward orbit. Musk’s long-term vision is for the system to one day fly astronauts to the moon and power hypersonic travel on Earth. He has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships in order to carry people and cargo to Mars.

starship sn10 spadre
The SN10 prototype at SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.

But first, SpaceX has to figure out how to land the rocket, since that is critical to making the system reusable. Full reusability could help Starship slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold.

The newest prototype is called Starship serial No. 10, or SN10. It’s not yet clear precisely when SpaceX plans to attempt its test flight, but Musk said on Sunday that there’s a “good chance” of launch this week.

When that happens, SN10 will roar tens of thousands of feet above SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. One by one, it should shut off its engines as it nears the peak of its flight, then flip sideways and plummet back to Earth in a controlled belly flop. As it nears the ground, the rocket should fire its engines once again to flip itself upright in time to slow its descent and touch down gently on the landing pad.

The last two times SpaceX conducted such a flight, the prototypes slammed into their landing pads and exploded.

SPadre.com captured the second incident from a camera on top of a building about 6 miles away:

Before this upcoming launch, SpaceX needs to conduct a static fire to test the rocket’s engines, but the company appears to have all the government clearance it needs for launch. That includes a launch-license approval, local road closures, and airspace closures.

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued airspace-closure notices for the area from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. CT on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Cameron County, Texas, has also issued a Boca Chica road-closure notice from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT for Thursday. However, road and airspace closures can be canceled and rescheduled over and over until SpaceX is actually ready to launch.

We will update this post once SpaceX confirms the timing of its launch attempt.

SpaceX faces regulatory hurdles to get Starship to orbit

starhip sn8 nosecone spacex boca chica test flight explosion
The nosecone of the Starship prototype SN8 after it exploded during a test flight, December 10, 2020.

SpaceX’s two previous test flights – those of prototypes SN8 and SN9 – were considered successes despite their explosive endings. That’s because they demonstrated that Starship is capable of rocketing to suborbital heights and then controlling its fall.

However, those flights both resulted in FAA investigations, since the agency wanted to determine the cause of the explosions. It turned out that SN8 had fallen victim to low pressure in a propellant tank, which caused the spaceship to fall too fast and slam into its landing pad. An additional issue with that attempt was that SpaceX hadn’t gotten the proper FAA approval, violating its launch license.

This triggered its own investigation, which then held up the SN9 flight. Once that prototype did fly, one of its three Raptor engines failed to relight as the rocket neared the ground.

All those investigations have been closed, an FAA spokesperson told CNN reporter Jackie Wattles. And the launch-license updates for the SN10 flight are approved, according to Washington Post reporter Christian Davenport.

Eventually, SpaceX will want to rocket a Starship into orbit to test its ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. That will require a different type of FAA license, but obtaining it means clearing many regulatory hurdles, including a thorough environmental assessment. (The environmental impact statement SpaceX previously completed for Boca Chica launches focused on the company’s smaller rockets, rather than its much larger Starship-Super Heavy system.)

The company is now waiting to start that environmental assessment, but depending on the findings, it’s possible SpaceX may need to conduct a new impact statement, which could take up to three years. Complicating matters is a leaked FAA draft document, obtained by Insider, which revealed that SpaceX plans to dig natural gas wells in Boca Chica to fuel Starships and power plants. Such plans could also affect SpaceX’s environmental review process.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Boeing drops after airlines ground 777 planes following engine failure over Denver

Boeing 777
Pieces of an airplane engine from United Airlines Flight 328 sit scattered in a neighborhood on February 20, 2021 in Broomfield, Colorado.

  • Boeing stock fell 3% during Monday’s session in the wake of the engine failure of a 777 plane over Colorado on Saturday. 
  • Boeing recommended airlines suspend the use of planes equipped with Pratt & Whitney PW44000-112 engines. 
  • The National Transportation Safety Board found two fan blades in the United Airlines engine were fractured. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Boeing stock dropped Monday after the aircraft manufacturer recommended that airlines ground certain 777 planes after an engine failure on United Airlines flight rained debris over the Denver area on Saturday.

United Airlines said it will “voluntarily & temporarily” remove 24 Boeing 777 aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000 series engines from its schedule. The move came after Flight UA328 from Denver to Honolulu experienced an engine failure shortly after departure. The flight landed safely at Denver International Airport.

None of the 229 passengers or 10 crew members were injured, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement. Parts from the plane were found scattered around the Broomfield area, which is located about 22 miles east of Denver International Airport. The NTSB said Sunday an initial examination of the Pratt & Whitney PW4077 engine showed, among other findings, that two fan blades were fractured.

Boeing stock fell as much as 3.1% to $210.83 before trimming the loss to 1.8%.  Boeing’s shares over the past 12 months have lost roughly 33%. United shares, meanwhile, rose 3.5%.  

“While the NTSB investigation is ongoing, we recommended suspending operations of the 69 in-service and 59 in-storage 777s powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines until the FAA identifies the appropriate inspection protocol,” said Boeing in a statement Sunday, referring to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Pratt & Whitney is a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies. Raytheon stock fell 1.5%.  

Boeing said it supported the decision by the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau and the FAA to suspend operations of 777 aircraft equipped with Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines.

“We are working with these regulators as they take actions while these planes are on the ground and further inspections are conducted by Pratt & Whitney,” Boeing said. 

The UK Civil Aviation Authority said Monday it has suspended the use of planes with Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines in UK airspace. The engines are not used by any UK airlines, it said. 

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FAA orders inspections on Boeing 777 airplanes after one experienced engine failure and dropped debris over Colorado

United Airlines Boeing 777-222
United Airlines Boeing 777-222 takes off at Los Angeles international Airport on September 15, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.

  • A Boeing 777 operated by United Airlines experienced engine failure Saturday, dropping debris over Colorado.
  • The FAA is now requiring inspections of all Boeing 777 jets with a particular engine model.
  • United also announced they would be grounding 24 active aircraft as they conduct a review.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration said Sunday he was requiring “immediate or stepped up inspections” of all Boeing 777 airplanes equipped with a particular engine model just a day after one experienced engine failure and dropped debris over Colorado.

“We reviewed all available safety data following yesterday’s incident. Based on the initial information, we concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement.

The engine in question is a Pratt & Whitney PW4000 model, which the statement said are only used on Boeing 777 airplanes.

United Airlines, the operator of the plane that experienced engine failure, also announced it would temporarily ground all 24 of its active Boeing 777 planes with that engine model.

In a statement provided to Insider, United said it would work with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board “to determine any additional steps that are needed to ensure these aircraft meet our rigorous safety standards and can return to service.”

The statement said that United has 52 of these planes, 24 active and 28 in storage, and that the move to ground them should temporarily impact only a small number of customers.

United flight 328 from Denver to Honolulu, Hawaii was carrying 231 passengers and 10 crew members when it experienced engine failure Saturday shortly after taking off. The Boeing 777 aircraft began shedding debris, some of which landed in residential neighborhoods.

One photo shows a large piece of debris that narrowly missed someone’s home. A video taken by a passenger on the plane showed one engine on fire while the plane was in flight.

The plane returned to Denver International Airport and landed safely, with no injuries reported from anyone on board or as a result of the falling debris.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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Harrowing video from inside United flight 328 shows the engine on fire as plane spews debris across Colorado neighborhoods

colorado plane debris
People look over debris that fell off a plane that shed parts over a neighborhood in Broomfield, Colo., Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021.

  • Though it landed safely, videos from the ground and sky show United flight 328’s engine in flames.
  • A passenger on the plane took a video of the engine on fire and rattling in the air.
  • Authorities said no one on the plane or on the ground was injured in the event.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Several videos posted on social media on Saturday showed United Airlines flight 328 soaring through the sky with one engine on fire just before the plane landed safely at a Denver airport.

The plane, a Boeing 777-200, dropped debris throughout several Colorado neighborhoods, including a massive piece that narrowly missed someone’s home.

None of the flight’s 231 passengers and 10 crew members were injured, nor was anyone on the ground below, authorities said.

One video showed the engine rattling ominously and engulfed in flames.

 

Another video from a driver’s dashboard camera showed the moment the engine exploded in the sky, leaving behind a plume of black smoke.

 

Photos from after the landing showed charred remnants of the engine.

 

The plane had taken off from Denver International Airport in Colorado, en route to Honolulu, Hawaii. It safely returned to the airport shortly after takeoff.

In another video, passengers could be heard cheering and clapping after the plane touched down.

 

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the flight had experienced a right engine failure after takeoff. Both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.

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A plane suffering engine failure dropped debris in people’s yards as it flew over Colorado, then landed safely

colorado denver debris
In this photo provided by the Broomfield Police Department on Twitter, debris is scattered in the front yard of a house at near 13th and Elmwood, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Broomfield, Colo.

  • A United Airlines flight dropped debris over Broomfield, Colorado, on Saturday.
  • The flight suffered engine failure after takeoff, and returned to the Denver airport safely.
  • No injuries on the ground or on the plane were reported.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A plane suffering engine failure as it flew over Colorado dropped debris across several neighborhoods and narrowly missed a house on Saturday afternoon.

The Broomfield Police Department tweeted a number of images of large, jagged pieces of metal that fell from the sky. One photo showed a massive, circular piece from the plane’s engine atop a home’s doorstep.

 

Remarkably, no injuries or deaths were immediately reported. The police department said it issued a Code Red to about 1,400 residents in nearby neighborhoods asking them to look out for debris on their property and report it to authorities.

Police also warned residents not to touch or move any debris.

The plane, carrying 231 passengers and 10 crew, landed safely after returning to the Denver International Airport, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration.

United Airlines Flight 328 had just taken off from the Denver airport, en route to Honolulu, Hawaii, when it experienced a right-engine failure after takeoff, the FAA said.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Elon Musk blasted the FAA for canceling a Starship test launch, but the agency said ‘outstanding safety issues’ were at play

Elon Musk
Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002.

  • SpaceX was ready to attempt a Starship rocket test flight on Thursday, but it couldn’t get clearance from the FAA.
  • Elon Musk criticized the agency on Twitter, saying that with its rules “humanity will never get to Mars,” but the FAA told Insider it was working with SpaceX to “resolve outstanding safety issues.” 
  • On Friday, a new FAA statement and a report from The Verge suggested that the hold-up may be related to the first high-altitude Starship flight, which ended in an explosion and violated SpaceX’s launch license.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

SpaceX was ready to launch its latest prototype of its Starship rocket about six miles into the air on Thursday.

That is, until the Federal Aviation Administration stepped in.

The rocket sat on the launchpad at the company’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, ready for workers to remotely load propellant into its fuel tanks. Local roads were also closed to make way for any explosions, and the company even posted an announcement about the flight on its website. All that SpaceX needed was approval from the FAA.

But the FAA pulled its airspace closure – a requirement for launch – triggering a public complaint by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk against the regulatory agency.

Around 10:50 a.m. CST, the FAA canceled the closure that was meant to make room for the rocket’s launch over the southeastern tip of Texas. About an hour later, the agency issued an advisory that the flight attempt was officially scrubbed.

Musk was none too pleased.

“Unlike its aircraft division, which is fine, the FAA space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure,” he said on Twitter Thursday afternoon. “Their rules are meant for a handful of expendable launches per year from a few government facilities. Under those rules, humanity will never get to Mars.” (The agency recently streamlined its rocket-launch rules, though that policy shift is not set to take effect until later this year.)

Despite the FAA’s sudden withdrawal of approval, SpaceX nevertheless began loading the Starship prototype with liquid propellant, as if preparing for launch or a “wet” dress rehearsal. Meanwhile, Musk was “working the phones” trying to get the FAA to approve a launch, according to Ars Technica senior space editor Eric Berger. The agency ultimately did not budge.

starship sn9 prototype spacex boca chica texas
The SN9 Starship prototype during static-fire testing in Boca Chica, Texas, on January 13, 2021.

“We will continue working with SpaceX to resolve outstanding safety issues before we approve the next test flight,” an FAA spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Insider.

It’s unclear what those safety issues were, but Washington Post space reporter Christian Davenport said that the FAA had confirmed the issues were related to the Starship vehicle. Irene Klotz, the space editor for Aviation Week & Space Technology, hinted that a procedural lapse on SpaceX’s part was possibly to blame.

“From what I’ve been told, required data for FAA safety assessment of @SpaceX 10km SN9 flight from Boca Chica was not fully submitted by compliance personnel,” Klotz tweeted Thursday afternoon.

Once the rocket was filled with propellant, there was still no sign of federal approval. So SpaceX began to unload the fuel. Residents of Boca Chica Village then received a notice that it was safe to return to their homes, according to Mary McConaughey, a longtime homeowner who reports for NASASpaceflight.com – confirming SpaceX would not make the day’s launch attempt.

The road to Mars is paved with regulations

The prototype that Musk wanted to launch on Thursday is called Starship serial No. 9, or SN9. Once it gets FAA approval, it’s set to rocket about six miles (10 kilometers) into the air. The first and only time SpaceX attempted such an ambitious Starship flight, in December, the rocket exploded as it landed back on Earth. SN9 will attempt to repeat that test and return in one piece.

The tricky maneuver involves shutting off the rocket’s three Raptor engines as it reaches the peak of flight, then using its four wing flaps to control a belly-flop free-fall back to Earth, reigniting the engines just in time to turn Starship upright and slow its fall, so that it touches down on a landing pad.

Nailing the non-explosive landing is important. Musk wants the final Starship-Super Heavy launch system to be fully reusable. If that plan succeeds, it may slash the cost of reaching space 1,000-fold, power round-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, and fly astronauts to the moon.

spacex starship super heavy spaceship booster rocket launch boca chica south texas illustration
An illustration of SpaceX’s planned 39-story Starship rocket system launching from Boca Chica, Texas.

Musk has said that his ultimate plan is to build 1,000 Starships to carry enough people and cargo to Mars to build an independent, self-sustaining city there.

But he can’t do that without cooperating with regulators like the FAA.

“It’s clear that industry can and wants to do innovative things, ambitious things, impressive things, a lot faster than have been done in the past,” George Nield, a former FAA associate administrator who led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation, told Insider after Musk tweeted about the FAA. “I’m hoping that the government and industry, with help from academia as appropriate, can all work together to figure out how to do that. I think everyone would benefit if that can be the case.”

The holdup may be related to the SN8 explosion and a license violation

In a new FAA statement emailed to Insider on Friday, the agency disclosed that it is still evaluating modifications to SpaceX’s launch license. That seems to be why it wasn’t ready to approve the SN9 flight this week.

“The FAA will continue to work with SpaceX to evaluate additional information provided by the company as part of its application to modify its launch license,” an FAA spokesperson said in the statement. “While we recognize the importance of moving quickly to foster growth and innovation in commercial space, the FAA will not compromise its responsibility to protect public safety. We will approve the modification only after we are satisfied that SpaceX has taken the necessary steps to comply with regulatory requirements.”

It’s unclear what those modifications are, but based on the new statement, Nield suspects the holdup has something to do with anomalies (like an explosive landing) during the launch of the previous prototype, SN8. SpaceX may not have provided the FAA with a satisfactory report on the incident. It could also be an amendment to the quantity of propellant or the thrust of the engines, he said.

starhip sn8 nosecone spacex boca chica test flight explosion
The nosecone of the Starship prototype SN8 after it exploded during a test flight, December 10, 2020.

“The simplest possibility in my mind is that they didn’t explain what happened on SN8 to the FAA in a formal way and have a ‘roger that’ back,” Nield said.

Separately – and possibly related – SpaceX violated the terms of its launch license during the SN8 test flight, prompting an FAA investigation, journalist Joey Roulette reported for The Verge on Friday. It’s unclear what the violation was, or whether it’s related to the new modifications that seem to be holding up the SN9 flight. 

It’s unknown when SN9 will launch, and the FAA didn’t provide a timeline for its approval process.

SpaceX has announced that it could launch as early as Monday, but the FAA has not issued an airspace closure notice to make way for a rocket launch in the area. The Cameron County Judge has issued road closures in Boca Chica from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Both an airspace closure and road closures are requirements for launch, in addition to the FAA approval.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published at 7:03 p.m. ET on January 28, 2021.

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Flights are being halted at 2 major airports in Texas to disinfect an air traffic control center where 2 workers tested positive for COVID-19 this week

Dallas Ft. Worth Airport
An American Airlines plane at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for flights departing and arriving into Dallas while a facility is being cleaned after two workers tested positive for COVID-19 this week.
  • Flights are also temporarily barred from landing or taking off from any airport under the airspace, which extends across Northern Texas from parts of New Mexico to parts of Louisiana and Arkansas. 
  • Exactly 22 people working at the facility reported having COVID-19, the highest of any FAA facility in Dallas. 
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Flights in and out of Dallas are being grounded as the air traffic control center responsible for the region’s high-altitude airspace is undergoing a two and a half hour cleaning after one of the facility’s personnel tested positive for COVID-19.

This is the second case this week where facility personnel tested positive for the virus, with the most recent incident occurring as recently as Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration’s website shows. Six FAA facilities in the Dallas area have reported positive COVID-19 cases, four of which reported cases multiple times, but this facility has experienced a whopping 22 cases, including Wednesday’s. 

The FAA issued a ground stop for all aircraft landing within the facility’s airspace during the cleaning, which extends well beyond the Dallas metropolitan area. Its airspace includes the skies above most of Northern Texas, Southern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Western Louisiana, and Eastern New Mexico. 

Dallas-bound flights that haven’t taken off yet are being held at their departure airports while flights en route to the area will likely need to enter holding patterns or divert to other airports outside of the airspace until the ground stop is lifted.

The Dallas Air Route Traffic Control Center typically coordinates flights in upper altitudes that depart from and arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas’ Love Field. The airports are home to American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, respectively, which operate hundreds of daily flights from the city. 

Aircraft slated to fly through Dallas’s wide-ranging airspace may also need to be rerouted around it, which can increase flight times for other aircraft. The facility is still open, the FAA confirmed to Business Insider, but likely operating with a reduced workforce due to the cleaning. 

The first high-profile incident of COVID-19 affecting sensitive air traffic control facilities occurred in March when the air traffic control tower at Chicago’s Midway International Airport was forced to close, grounding flights in and out of the airport. In Las Vegas, the extended closure of McCarran International Airport’s air traffic control facilities meant aircraft had to communicate directly with each other to coordinate their movements. 

Air traffic controllers at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport retreated to a secondary location while their control tower was closed for cleaning in March. Not all airports, however, have backup facilities for their air traffic control operations. 

Air Route Control Centers are also typically closed overnight for cleaning to reduce the impact on flights during the day but the frequency of cases this week likely prompted the afternoon cleaning. The ground stop also comes during what is proving to be the busiest travel time of the pandemic with over one million daily passengers passing through US airports on the days surrounding the Christmas and New Year’s holidays

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