Friday, January 29, 2021

There's Progress at Boca Chica, Just Not Flying

The last couple of days of watching the goings on at SpaceX Boca Chica have been strange.   The test flight was scrubbed due to weather on Wednesday, then scheduled for tomorrow.  Midday, the test count was halted again, this time because the FAA had notified SpaceX that their permission to conduct the test flight was rescinded.  Later in the day it became apparent the vehicle was being fueled again and viewers couldn't tell if it was to try a launch, or try to be ready to launch if approval came in, or simply another cryogenic test.

It's hard to determine what's actually happening because there's nothing published about it with enough detail to know.  Neither SpaceX or the FAA has said much of anything officially, although an FAA official made a pretty generic statement, “We will continue working with SpaceX to resolve outstanding safety issues before we approve the next test flight.”  That might seem more appropriate if this wasn't almost an exact duplicate of the vehicle from the last test and the mission profile that it flew. 

For his part, Elon Musk Tweeted:
Unlike its aircraft division, which is fine, the FAA space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure.

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.
Since everywhere else in the that we can see is undergoing regulatory expansion and regrowth, it's possible the FAA is looking at SpaceX again trying to figure what new, capricious regulations they could put on them and what kind of fees they can raise.  Trump ran a very laissez-faire administration and tons of redundant and outdated regulations were dumped.  Back in 2017, the administration had said that while they had asked regulatory agency heads to get rid of two old, useless regulations for every new one passed, and they had actually gotten rid of 22 regulations for every new one!

Late today, though, we got something we've never seen.  Two Starships on test stands within tens of yards of each other:

That's SN10 on the left, still being put on the test stand by Bluto the crane with Eileen to the right.  This is the launch pad camera on Lab Padre, not the usual Nerdle camera that I watch. 

Eric Berger at Ars Technica, one of the few level-headed reporters at Ars, put up a piece around the end of the day today with this take on what's going on.  He thinks there's an increased attention to safety in the area, possibly since there's still a small residential community on Boca Chica and something about the SN8 flight made the FAA more concerned about safety.  SpaceX evacuates the area when they're doing a test and puts the community up in a nearby hotel at their own expense.


  1. I know Elon Musk has attempted to buy out any close neighbors with only limited success. If the FAA becomes too much of a SNAFU, what's to prevent him from making a deal with Mexico and moving the whole operation about five miles down the beach on the other side of the Rio Grande?

  2. Ya know, I was worried that the National Socialists would throw caltrops in the path of SpaceX.

    Seems I am right.

    I wonder if these new obstructionist policies by the FAA are from the ChiComs?

    Nothing would surprise me anymore.

  3. This sounds like something up Elon's alley. Maybe something to start in Brazil.

  4. Yes, the USA isn't the only game in town for the richest man in the world.

  5. While the public facing reason is "safety", I suspect that it is someone behind the curtain. It could be ULA because SLS is a multi-billion cluster ****. It could be the ChiComs because they appear to be pulling strings to the highest levels of our government. And it could be both of them and even more actors amongst the oligarchs.

    I have always figured that the new administration would have problems with SpaceX since the new administration is all about control and is beholding to the oligarchs that put it in power. I think Elon Musk is going to be another rebel.

  6. The FAA shouldn't be regulating anything. Their A&P test primarily consists of information needed in the early 1940's. Radial engines. Smart schools teach the test questions but actually educate for the turbine engines and airframes. And if the FAA gets stupid...just move across the border. The Oligarchs and their enforcers could hardly complain. It's what they do.

    1. Before retiring, I worked on some FAA compliance reports on new designs. Like the FCC, chances are the last useful thing they did was in the '60s. Reducing the FAA to just publishing NOTAMs would be an improvement.

      If engine companies really want an A&P certification, they could make a industry overseer panel and make their own tests up.

      The other side of that is companies like the agencies so they can point at their certifications showing they did what they should have done.

  7. It appears now that the FAA had problems with the SN8 flight. There is apparently an FAA investigation into the SN8 flight that started a week after the flight but this is just coming out now. The FAA has said that somehow SpaceX violated their license for the SN8 flight but there are no specifics about what the violation(s) was/were.

    While the Ars Technica article seems level headed, there just seems to be a political stench about this. My father worked with the FAA as a private Designated Engineering Representative. In the last few years of his life (he died in December 2000) he was having more problems with their aviation bureaucracy; they were getting in too many people who in his words "had only seen airplanes when they got on an airliner". I wouldn't be surprised by the same thing in the FAA space division. It is bureaucrats being bureaucrats exercising their "power".

    1. Oh, it definitely stinks of that. Bureaucratic fund raising. Prove how useful they are. They were moderately restrained under Trump's orders but that's all gone. Time to show those peons who's the boss!

      My years dealing with the FAA and FCC from the aviation industry told me they were essentially useless (both of them) and would be easy targets to shutdown if you really want to save government spending. Of course, nobody in the administration cares about such things.

      They are nothing if not a 100% swamp-creature administration. Cronyism everywhere. Well, the labor unions were cronies, but they got screwed over. Only the right cronies are OK.

      As an aside, I subscribed to Ars Technica last year and had no idea what a hive of Trump Derangement Syndrome they are. There was always something on the site that talked badly about some policy, any policy, that he came up with. Since the only thing I ever got out of them was in the Rocket Report and they still send that to me, I dropped them and switched to paying Teslarati for a year. So far, they have been almost 100% apolitical.

  8. Bring in Dr Fauci to straighten out the FAA. :)