House panel probes SpaceX launch activities

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WASHINGTON  – The House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said on Monday it is investigating a SpaceX commercial space launch that regulators determined violated U.S. safety requirements and its test license.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in February that SpaceX's December launch of Starship SN8 proceeded without the company demonstrating that the public risk from "far field blast overpressure" was within regulatory criteria.

The FAA says far field blast overpressure may be a hazard to the public if the launch vehicle explodes on impact, potentially creating a shock wave that damages windows in areas relatively far from the impact site.

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House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio and Representative Rick Larsen, who oversees the aviation subcommittee, said in a letter last Thursday to the FAA that "given the high-risk nature of the industry, we are disappointed that the FAA declined to conduct an independent review of the event and, to the best of our knowledge, has not pursued any form of enforcement action."

In February, the FAA said it had required SpaceX to investigate the incident, including a comprehensive review of its safety culture, "operational decision-making and process discipline."

The FAA ordered some testing suspended at the Texas launch site until the investigation was completed and it approved the company’s corrective actions.

The FAA said SpaceX's corrective actions were incorporated into a February launch and that it anticipated "taking no further enforcement action on SN8 matter."

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SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment. The letter was reported earlier by Politico.

The FAA declined to comment on the letter.

Committee staff have been examining for two months "SpaceX launch activities that, taken together, raise serious questions," the lawmakers' letter said, urging the FAA to "resist any potential undue influence on launch safety decision-making."

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SpaceX owner and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted on Sunday about a "possible Starship flight tomorrow afternoon." He said on Monday that "FAA inspector unable to reach Starbase in time for launch today. Postponed to no earlier than tomorrow."

In January, Musk tweeted that the FAA's "space division has a fundamentally broken regulatory structure" and that "humanity will never get to Mars" under its rules.

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