AUSTIN (KXAN) — Spacecraft manufacturer SpaceX will need to make several changes before its next launch of its Starship line of rockets, after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued its findings Thursday about what went wrong with the company’s April 20 launch.

During that launch, a “structural failure” of the launch pad’s foundation occurred, sending chunks of debris into sensitive wildlife areas.

Author’s note: The video is originally from April 20, 2023. It shows the rocket launch referred to in this story.

In addition, the FAA said that the uncrewed vehicle deviated from its expected trajectory, which triggered its Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS) to begin a self-destruct sequence. However, due to a delay in that system, the vehicle instead broke up in what SpaceX called a “rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation.”

“The closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of Starship launches at Boca Chica,” an FAA media official tells KXAN. “SpaceX must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and apply for and receive a license modification from the FAA that addresses all safety, environmental and other applicable regulatory requirements prior to the next Starship launch.”

While the full report is not publicly available, the official did say that some of the 63 fixes include:

  • Redesigns of vehicle hardware to prevent leaks and fires;
  • Redesign of the launch pad to increase its robustness;
  • Incorporation of additional reviews in the design process;
  • Additional analysis and testing of safety critical systems and components; and
  • Additional change control practices.  

According to the FAA, it supervised the SpaceX-led investigation to ensure compliance with an FAA-approved mishap plan and regulatory requirements. The NASA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were granted official observer status by the FAA in the investigation.

SpaceX owner Elon Musk did not address the findings directly, but did share a SpaceX post about upgrades, adding “thousands of upgrades to Starship & launchpad/Mechazilla.” “Mechazilla” is SpaceX’s name for its launch/landing tower.

A release on SpaceX’s website touted those upgrades ahead of its second Starship launch.

“Starship’s first flight test provided numerous lessons learned that are directly contributing to several upgrades being made to both the vehicle and ground infrastructure to improve the probability of success on future Starship flights,” the release states. “Testing development flight hardware in a flight environment is what enables our teams to quickly learn and execute design changes and hardware upgrades to improve the probability of success in the future.”

The company said that it has:

  • Implemented leak mitigations;
  • Improved testing on both engine and booster hardware;
  • Expanded Super Heavy’s fire suppression system;
  • Requalified the craft’s AFSS;
  • Reinforced its launch pad and added a flame deflector; and
  • Implemented additional system upgrades unrelated to previous test flight.