FAA Grounds SpaceX Falcon 9 Fleet After Upper-Stage Failure During Starlink Mission
FAA Grounds SpaceX Falcon 9 Fleet After Upper-Stage Failure During Starlink Mission

FAA Grounds SpaceX Falcon 9 Fleet After Upper-Stage Failure During Starlink Mission

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has grounded SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket fleet following a launch from California that experienced an upper-stage failure. The incident occurred during a mission to deploy Starlink satellites, which were left in an eccentric orbit.

This grounding immediately affects the launch schedule on the Space Coast, where Falcon 9 has been the primary rocket for the majority of the 50 launches conducted so far in 2024. The FAA has initiated an investigation to determine the cause of the failure and to develop corrective actions to prevent future occurrences.

The FAA’s statement emphasizes that the Falcon 9’s return to flight is contingent on ensuring that any identified issues do not compromise public safety. SpaceX may need to amend its license to include corrective measures.

The grounding could delay several scheduled missions, including two Starlink launches and the high-profile Polaris Dawn mission, which aims to conduct the first commercial spacewalk. The Polaris Dawn mission, led by Jared Isaacman, was slated for no earlier than July 31.

FAA Grounds SpaceX Falcon 9 Fleet After Upper-Stage Failure During Starlink Mission
FAA Grounds SpaceX Falcon 9 Fleet After Upper-Stage Failure During Starlink Mission

The Falcon 9 mission that encountered the failure was launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base and carried 20 Starlink satellites. According to SpaceX, a liquid oxygen leak in the upper stage caused the satellites to be deployed at a much lower altitude than planned.

SpaceX assured that the satellites would re-enter the atmosphere safely and not pose a threat. The company acknowledged the technical challenges of spaceflight and highlighted its track record of 364 successful Falcon launches.

SpaceX has committed to a thorough investigation with the FAA to identify the root cause of the incident and implement necessary corrective actions. The company expressed confidence in its ability to recover quickly due to its robust production capabilities and high launch cadence.

SpaceX aims to maintain its position as the world’s most active launch provider despite this setback. The company has experienced a few major mishaps in Florida, with notable incidents occurring in 2015 and 2016, which led to changes in operations.

Aside from the Falcon 9 missions, only a few other rockets have launched from the Space Coast this year, including United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan, Delta IV Heavy, and Atlas V, as well as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. With the FAA’s decision, the next scheduled launch on the Space Coast is a ULA Atlas V mission on July 30.

Jared Isaacman, the commander of the upcoming Polaris Dawn mission, expressed his confidence in SpaceX’s ability to resolve the issue and continue its successful launch operations.

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