SpaceX slams regulatory ‘headwinds’ for holding up Starship, risking US dominance in space

SpaceX has criticized the long-term regulatory process for its Starship rocket, claiming that the “headwinds” are holding up the progress of the rocket and potentially compromising U.S. leadership in the development of space technologies.

The Starship is SpaceX’s next-generation rocket, designed to enable ambitious missions to the Moon and Mars. But in a tweet to CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said that the regulatory approvals are coming at a snail’s pace and could risk U.S. dominance in the future of space exploration.

Specifically, Shotwell mentioned that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is taking nine months to review changes to programs such as Starship or plans for operations on launch sites such as the planned launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.

In response, Musk tweeted that this “inefficiency” and “massive regulatory uncertainty” will act as a disruptive force to SpaceX’s efforts to become a leader in the space industry. He added that, while awards from the government’s Commercial Crew Program are “great,” they do not provide any regulatory clarity which is key for Starship’s timely development.

The comments come as SpaceX and its competitors are competing for lucrative government contracts, such as the $2.9 billion Commercial Crew Program which hires companies to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. The current challenges posed by regulation favor established companies, making it hard for SpaceX and other newcomers to succeed in the space industry.

SpaceX’s comments also highlight the need for the FAA to modernize its approach to regulating the commercial space sector. At present, SpaceX and other commercial companies operate in the United States under “spacecraft waiver” regulations which were established in the 1980s, prior to the development of private space launchers. SpaceX believes that updating this approach to incorporate the latest rockets and launch sites could further discourage potential competitors and cement U.S. dominance in the space industry.

Ultimately, SpaceX’s frustrations with the current regulations emphasize that regulatory efficiency is key for the U.S. to remain competitive in the space industry and maintain its leadership on the global stage.