A SpaceX executive said it’s “hard to say” when the company’s new Starship vehicle will be ready as a lunar lander for NASA, claiming regulation is holding up additional test flights.
(Bloomberg) — A SpaceX executive said it’s “hard to say” when the company’s new Starship vehicle will be ready as a lunar lander for NASA, claiming regulation is holding up additional test flights.
William Gerstenmaier, vice president for build and flight reliability at Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., testified during a US Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that the next Starship vehicle has been ready to fly on a test mission for more than a month now, but is still awaiting the necessary government approvals.
“It’s hard for me to give a specific date of where we are,” Gerstenmaier said, noting that lagging regulation should not hold up the company’s launch schedule.
SpaceX has been developing its Starship rocket to take cargo and eventually humans to the moon and Mars. NASA awarded SpaceX an initial $2.9-billion contract to take the agency’s astronauts to the moon using Starship as a lunar lander. NASA’s current moon landing target is 2025, which NASA has said could shift due to development delays.
At the hearing, Gerstenmaier and executives from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic advocated for a multiyear extension of a ban on the Federal Aviation Administration imposing safety regulations on commercial human spaceflight. Gerstenmaier’s comments were first reported on Oct. 16 by Bloomberg News.
The FAA did not receive an invitation to testify at the hearing, the agency said in an emailed statement. The agency also said that keeping pace with the space industry is a priority and that it is working to add more staff.
The FAA grounded Starship after its inaugural April 20 test flight when the two-stage rocket failed to separate as planned and spun out of control, prompting SpaceX to intentionally blow up the vehicle. The launch damaged SpaceX’s launchpad and spread debris and pulverized concrete across hundreds of acres of terrain.
The hearing comes as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin work to increase the number of rocket launches and people traveling to space for tourism or other pursuits. US air-safety regulators and Congress are grappling with how to regulate the burgeoning industry.
Other topics of discussion at the hearing included how best to streamline the FAA’s launch licensing process and providing more resources to the agency’s commercial spaceflight efforts.
Gerstenmaier said SpaceX has numerous technical hurdles to overcome to ready Starship as a lunar lander and that the company is itching to conduct more test flights to learn more about the vehicle.
“We need to test that soon, learn what’s wrong, fix it, and go fly again,” Gerstenmaier said. “And we cannot be held up by regulation.”
(Updates with FAA comments and background on Starship starting from 6th paragraph.)
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