“SpaceX must operate under different rules

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For Steve Blank, Stanford and Columbia Universities, SpaceX and other innovators must operate under different rules: those of innovation. Rules the FAA no longer understands. Also, the agency should be relieved of the oversight of these programs to focus on their basic functions: ensuring the safety of commercial aircraft and airspace.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will oversee the investigation to determine the causes of the recent crash of SpaceX’s SN9 prototype. The objective will be to identify the root cause of the accident, and to further secure the Starship test program which has just suffered its second explosion.

The announcement follows an FAA report that SpaceX violated federal safety regulations during the clearance process for flight SN8 last December. Concretely, the company had requested an exemption to exceed the maximum public risk authorized by federal security regulations. However, while the FAA refused the request, SpaceX still proceeded with the flight.

On paper, the FAA’s intentions seem quite commendable, but not everyone agrees. In a recent paper published on Spacenews, Stanford University professor and Columbia University innovation specialist Steve Blank has not mince words about the federal agency.

In innovation, failure is part of the process

“While at first glance the FAA / SpaceX feud over their rocket’s rapid development might be seen as a simple case involving a wealthy, rule-breaking entrepreneur and a federal agency trying to protect the public, it is actually an example of a government organization – the FAA – unable to distinguish between innovation and execution ”, emphasizes the researcher.

Still according to him, the FAA is putting unnecessary obstacles in the way of a company which, like it or not, has revolutionized the aerospace industry, making access to space cheaper. , and therefore more accessible.

In innovation, failure is part of the process. Test rockets explode. If you don’t push the boundaries and isolate the limits of your design, you aren’t innovating enough, nor fast enough ”, continues the researcher. “ It goes without saying that you strive to minimize loss of life and property, but the rules governing innovation programs should recognize an increased need for speed. The US government appreciated this when developing rockets and experimental aircraft in the 1950s and 1960s ”.

The researcher also returned to the air disasters of October 2018 and March 2019, which resulted in the immobilization of the Boeing 737 MAX for several months, plunging the American aircraft manufacturer into the most turbulent period in its history. House and Senate inquiries into these failures then highlighted deficiencies in air safety oversight and a lack of leadership at the FAA.

In other words, the agency had failed to deliver on its core mission – to provide the safest and most efficient aerospace system in the world.

The SN9 prototype crashes to the ground on Tuesday, February 2, 2021. Credits: Trevor MahlmanN / Pixabay

Need new rules

For Steve Blanck, the FAA is still healing its wounds, and should focus more on commercial airline safety, rather than entering political theater by signaling its concern for public safety in the Starship trials.

SpaceX and other innovators must operate under different rules – those of innovation ”, he explains. “Rules that we knew how to apply when we developed rockets and experimental planes in the 50s and 60s. Rules that the FAA simply does not understand any more ”.

So the White House should step in and relieve the FAA of the oversight of innovation and experimentation programs to focus on repairing their basic functions: ensuring the safety of commercial aircraft and airspace. “And maybe a new administrator will hang up in his hallway the photos of the 346 people killed (in the two 737 MAX accidents, note), to remind them of what happened when the FAA did not make its job”.

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