Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
The Federal Aviation Administration completed its investigation into SpaceX’s Starship rocket test launch that self-destructed in April above the Texas coast and sent debris and sand raining down over sensitive habitat and communities nearby.
The FAA said the company can’t begin launching again at Boca Chica in Cameron County, where the test launch took place, until it corrects “multiple root causes” that led to the structural failure of the launch pad deck foundation.
The FAA sent a letter to SpaceX Friday that said it completed its investigation and identified over 60 “corrective actions” that include redesigns of vehicle hardware “to prevent leaks and fires” and the launch pad “to increase its robustness” before another launch can be considered.
“The closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of Starship launches at Boca Chica,” the FAA said in a statement.
The FAA wouldn’t release the full report, saying it contains proprietary data and information not available for public release.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to comment, but posted an update Thursday that said that the first flight test for its Starship rocket was a “critical step” and “provided numerous lessons learned that are directly contributing to several upgrades being made to both the vehicle and ground infrastructure to improve the probability of success on future Starship flights.”
In April, SpaceX’s 400-foot-tall Starship spun in circles minutes into its flight, then self-destructed over the Gulf of Mexico after reaching a height of 24 miles. The launch sent debris, including chunks of concrete, into sensitive animal habitats nearby.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that a debris cloud, containing pulverized concrete, spread as far as 6.5 miles north of the launch pad.
Following the rocket’s failed launch, environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas sued the FAA over its handling of SpaceX’s plans, claiming the agency failed to conduct an environmental review before the launch. They are asking the court to suspend SpaceX’s five-year license, granted by the FAA.
The FAA is requiring SpaceX to apply for a modification to their license to allow for future launches, but only until the corrective actions are taken and the company “addresses all safety, environmental and other applicable regulatory requirements.”
The full program is now LIVE for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 21-23 in Austin. Explore the program featuring more than 100 unforgettable conversations coming to TribFest. Panel topics include the biggest 2024 races and what’s ahead, how big cities in Texas and around the country are changing, the integrity of upcoming elections and so much more. See the full program.