Update: CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX’s fourth high-altitude Starship launch has been delayed from Monday to Tuesday after an FAA inspector – recently required to be onsite for launches – was inexplicably more than six hours late.
While the smallest grain of salt is warranted given Musk’s recently vitriolic relationship with the FAA, the CEO has every reason not to lie about a federal regulatory agency that SpaceX almost fundamentally depends on. As such, the implication is that a lone FAA inspector – only recently required by the FAA itself to be onsite for SpaceX Starship launches – was somehow more than four or five hours away from Boca Chica, Texas by 11am CDT, March 29th.
The only possible explanation for such a delay is that a single inspector – lacking virtually any of the resources afforded to large government agency – missed a flight on a public airline, had a flight canceled at the last second, or was somehow stranded in the middle of nowhere by car issues. As any sane human familiar with air or car travel would know, those issues happen and should always be anticipated. Knowing full well that it had just changed SpaceX’s Starship launch license just two weeks prior to prevent flights without an inspector present, the FAA does not appear to have prepared for those issues in even the most basic sense, failing to ensure alternate methods of transport or two redundant inspectors.
In essence, due either to severe underfunding, general ineptitude, some childish attempt to assert dominance, or some combination of all three, the FAA has explicitly disrespected the hundreds of (possibly 1000+) SpaceX employees working around the clock for weeks to launch Starship SN11 as quickly as possible. Given that the FAA itself distributed Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) for SN11’s Monday launch on Saturday and noted plans for the launch more than a day prior, the giant regulatory agency had no less than 24-48 hours of prior warning even if they’d somehow ignored or missed SpaceX’s own CEO announcing a delay to March 29th on March 26th.
If a regulatory agency like the FAA is incapable of ensuring that an inspector can stand around at a launch the agency itself required an inspector be present for days prior, the same apparatus assuredly should not and cannot be trusted to regulate systems as complex as modern aircraft, spacecraft, and rockets. If the FAA is, in fact, up to the challenge of responsibly regulating those systems with the public’s best interest in mind, then failing a task as simple as ensuring its own inspector is transported, on time, from Point A to Point B is a conscious decision or mistake. Either way, something clearly needs to change.
CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX has delayed Starship serial number 11’s (SN11) high-altitude launch debut from Friday to Monday to best ensure that the company can “land & fully recover” the 50-meter-tall steel rocket.
First and foremost, the weekend will allow SpaceX times time for “additional checkouts” and scour Starship SN11 and the data it’s produced during testing for any red flags or minor issues. While plans for a same-day static fire and launch didn’t pan out on Friday, March 26th, SpaceX did manage the first half, firing up just one of Starship’s three Raptors to verify the health of the replacement engine after a Thursday Raptor swap. The test marked the first time SpaceX has intentionally fired up just one of the Raptors installed on a three-engine Starship prototype, so the delay will provide extra time to ensure that all three are still looking good.
Standing down SN11 until probably Monday. Additional checkouts are needed. Doing our best to land & fully recover.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 26, 2021
The weather in Boca Chica, Texas has also taken a turn for the worse in the last few days, so the extra few days will also (hopefully) allow time for wind, visibility, and precipitation conditions to improve. According to Musk, Starship SN11 is now scheduled to fly as early as Monday “afternoon” and, as usual, SpaceX will offer live coverage of the fourth high-altitude launch and landing attempt beginning a few minutes before liftoff.
With a little luck, the Starship prototype will be able to continue a trend of iterative improvement and one-up Starship SN10 with a slightly softer landing and no explosion minutes after touchdown. Stay tuned for updates both here and on SpaceX’s social media platforms to catch the official webcast.