The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has completed its investigation into the SpaceX Starship Super Heavy mishap. The final report identifies several root causes for the April 20, 2023 accident and 63 corrective actions that SpaceX must take to prevent the problem from occurring again.
Corrective actions include redesigning vehicle hardware to prevent leaks and fires. Redesigning the launch pad to increase its robustness, incorporating additional reviews into the design process, additional analysis and testing of safety-critical systems and components, including the autonomous flight safety system, and applying additional change control.
The conclusion of the accident investigation does not indicate an immediate resumption of Starship launches in Boca Chica. SpaceX must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and apply for and receive a license change from the FAA that meets all applicable regulatory, environmental and safety requirements before the next Starship launch.
SpaceX is also rolling out a slew of system performance updates that are unrelated to the issues identified in the initial flight test. For example, SpaceX has built and tested a hot stage separation system, in which Starship’s second stage engines are ignited to move the ship away from the booster. In addition, SpaceX has developed a new electronic thrust vector control (TVC) system for Super Heavy Raptor engines. By using purely electric motors, the new system has fewer potential sources of error and is significantly more energy efficient than conventional hydraulic systems.
SpaceX has also made significant improvements to the orbital launch platform and support system to prevent a repeat of the platform base failure observed during the first flight test. These improvements include significant reinforcements to the base of the platform and the addition of a flame deflector, which SpaceX has successfully tested on multiple occasions.
Testing flight hardware in development in a flight environment allows teams to learn quickly and make design changes and hardware upgrades to increase the chances of success in the future. The company says it “learned a lot about the vehicle and ground systems during Starship’s first flight test.” “Recursive enhancement is essential as we work to build a fully reusable launch system capable of transporting satellites, payloads, crew and cargo to various Earth, Lunar or Mars orbits and landing sites.”