FAA Drops Inquiry Into SpaceX Crashes. But Will the Next Launch Succeed?
The FAA closed its investigation of SpaceX's Starship prototypes eight and nine (SN8 and SN9) — which both crashed into the ground in colossal explosions after flying to incredible heights, and with the investigations now closed, the road is open for SN10 to fly soon.
Tweeting on the prospect of a near-term SN10 flight, CEO SpaceX Elon Musk tweeted: there's a "good chance of flying this week!"
However, a failed prototype isn't really a failure at all. The ambition of SpaceX's Starship is unprecedented in aerospace — and with zero deaths, we can't stress enough how successful even exploded Starships are. But will the next one, Starship SN10, achieve total success?
FAA dropped SpaceX inquiry, and SN10 could be a total success
Late in January, The Verge reported that SpaceX had violated its launch license when it launched Starship SN8 in December — but later an FAA spokesperson said the matter was settled, according to a tweet from a CNN reporter.
The Starship SN8's explosive crash was attributed to a low fuel tank pressure during landing burn, according to a tweet from Elon Musk. "Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed!" — where by RUD, Musk means "Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly."
The Starship SN9 ended in the same explosive way on Feb. 2, but instead of faulty fuel tank pressure, a Raptor engine was the culprit of the crash. "During the landing flip maneuver, one of the Raptor engines did not relight and caused SN9 to land at high speed and experience a RUD," read an update posted to SpaceX's website.
"The FAA provided oversight of the SN9 mishap investigation conducted by SpaceX. The SN9 vehicle failed within the bounds of the FAA safety analysis. Its unsuccessful landing and explosion did not endanger the public or property." (2/4)— Jackie Wattles (@jackiewattles) February 19, 2021
Starship SN10 possibly carrying out static fire tests
The FAA's inquiry found the crash to be benign, saying Starship SN9 had "failed within the bounds of the FAA safety analysis," and "its unsuccessful landing and explosion did not endanger the public or property," according to two tweets from the CNN reporter.
It remains to be seen when Starship SN10 will launch. On Monday, SpaceX's Boca Chica base had already begun closing the local highway and beach to prepare for "non-flight testing activities," which could point to a static fire test.
SpaceX's Starship SN10 has a '~60' percent chance to land
In a Feb. 13 tweet, Elon Musk claimed the probability of success was roughly 60%. And on Sunday, he tweeted that there is a "[g]ood chance of flying this week!"
Meanwhile, NASASpaceflight reporter BocaChicaGal has followed the on-site progress of Starship SN10 closely and appears to be one of the best people to keep in your tabs as we approach the next launch of the SpaceX prototype. So while we can't say exactly when the next prototype will take to the skies, or when a fully-functional version will set off for Mars, we at least have first-ever videos of a NASA rover landing on the Red Planet, to hold us over.