SpaceX is ready to launch its next Starship vehicle but is facing frustrating delays due to the spaceflight licensing process, a company representative told the U.S. Senate on October 18. Bill Gerstenmaier, the SpaceX vice president of build and flight reliability, expressed his concerns during a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee's space subcommittee hearing.
“Starship has been ready for its next flight test for more than a month, but we are waiting for an FAA license and accompanying interagency review,” he said. “The Office of Commercial Space Transportation, known as AST, must recognize where the industry is, where the industry is going and its role in regulating this emerging industry.”
Despite the licensing holdup, SpaceX has continued with additional tests on the Starship vehicle, including stacking the Starship upper stage on its Super Heavy booster. Today, engineers performed a “Single engine static fire demonstrating flight-like startup for a Starship deorbit burn” on a Starship prototype, as seen in the video clip linked below. Gerstenmaier shared that the company plans to conduct a fueling test and a practice countdown known as a wet dress rehearsal in the coming days. "This is super hard because we have an unknown timeframe for when we're going to get the license," Gerstenmaier told the Senate. "I can't stay in limbo forever."
Single engine static fire demonstrating flight-like startup for a Starship deorbit burn pic.twitter.com/gX4GPRcN7n— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 20, 2023
While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expected to conclude its review of SpaceX's actions related to public safety from the previous Starship launch by the end of October, the launch license is also contingent on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's review of the environmental effects of changes to the launch pad, including a massive steel water deluge system. This review could take up to 135 days, further delaying the process.
In his testimony, Gerstenmaier called on the regulatory agencies involved to adopt a different mindset when reviewing launch licenses. He emphasized that the primary focus should be on protecting public safety, not ensuring the success of rocket launches. Gerstenmaier also underlined the importance of expediting the process for projects of national interest, such as the NASA Artemis program, in which SpaceX was selected to build a lunar-optimized Starship Human Landing System (HLS) to return humanity to the Moon by 2025. “When it comes to projects of national interest, such as the Artemis program, Congress should establish a regulatory regime consistent with the national program’s objectives and schedules. Other government agencies that participate in AST licensing, like those with environmental responsibilities, should also be required to complete their work consistent with the national program schedules,” he said. You can listen to his conversation with the U.S. Senate in the video linked below.
Gerstenmaier told the Senate that that SpaceX was trying to pursue an “aggressive test program” for Starship. “With that approach, it’s important that we go fly as soon as we can. The hardware is really ready to go fly. When we have regulatory delays, such as we’re facing right now, that slows down developmental test flights and ultimately slows down our support to NASA, slows down our support for what we need to do to return humans back to the surface of the moon again,” he said. “[...] If we want to be a leader in space, I feel an unbelievable pressure to fly as soon as we can and learn as much as we can. The only way we can get there is by flying.”
He has a point— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 19, 2023
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.