SpaceX has found a perhaps unexpected ally in its quest to democratize space—the FAA, according to CNBC. FAA associate administrator for commercial space operations Wayne Monteith launched a spirited defense of the company he had criticized a few months before in front of a congressional committee last week. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee had Monteith on the carpet to discuss the exploding (pun intended) commercial space industry and SpaceX naturally came up. Rep. Peter Defazio, D-Ore., and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., were particularly interested in the dust-up last December when the company launched prototype SN8 against the direction of the FAA.
Although he was miffed at SpaceX at the time, he told the committee the company has since cleaned up its act. “We would not have cleared them to start flight operations again had I not been confident they had modified their procedures effectively and addressed the safety culture issues that we saw,” Monteith said. SpaceX launched the silo-like SN8 from Boca Chica, Texas, on the first high-altitude test of its all-important belly-flop descent maneuver despite an FAA safety inspector’s warning to abort the launch. The descent was a success until the very end when an engine failure led to SN8 being blown to smithereens in the landing attempt. SpaceX defended its actions at the time by saying it was all a big misunderstanding and “assumed that the inspector did not have the latest information.” The next launch was approved as were all the subsequent launches resulting in three more massive explosions. On May 5 SN15 landed successfully.