The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a proposal recently to issue a $175,000 fine against SpaceX for failing to submit a collision-avoidance analysis ahead of an August 2022 launch of 53 of its Starlink internet satellites.
Launches like this have become routine for SpaceX. Last year, the company beat its own record, totaling 61 launches for 2022 — most of them devoted to lofting big Starlink batches. To date, SpaceX has launched more than 4,000 Starlink satellites, blanketing low Earth orbit (LEO) with its wireless internet infrastructure.
According to the FAA, SpaceX is required to submit launch collision-analysis trajectory data at least a week prior to any given liftoff. This data ensures a rocket won't fly smack into a Starlink satellite, or any of the other thousands of satellites and pieces of orbital debris currently zooming around our planet.
According to the FAA, SpaceX failed to submit the required data ahead of its Starlink Group 4-27 launch on Aug. 19, 2022. In its letter to SpaceX, the FAA states, "SpaceX is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $262,666 for each violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations. After reviewing all of the information contained in our investigative file, we propose to assess a civil penalty in the amount of $175,000."
This is not the first time SpaceX has rubbed the FAA the wrong way. For example, the FAA claimed SpaceX launched one of its Starship prototypes in December 2020 in violation of its launch license. The agency also repeatedly delayed publishing the environmental impact assessment needed to certify SpaceX's Boca Chica, Texas facility for Starship launch tests. The FAA ultimately approved Starship activity at Boca Chica but required SpaceX to take more than 75 actions to mitigate environmental impacts on the area.
SpaceX completed a successful test fire of a Super Heavy prototype — Starship's huge first-stage booster — earlier this month and has indicated that it aims to launch Starship's first-ever orbital test flight in March. But the company apparently still lacks the FAA license to do so.
The FAA's Feb. 17 letter to SpaceX regarding the missing Starlink launch collision avoidance data includes options for the company's response. SpaceX can either participate "in an informal conference with an FAA attorney," or submit further documentation and evidence for the FAA to consider. "If SpaceX fails to submit its choice within 30 days of its receipt of this Notice, it will have no further right to participate in the informal procedures," the letter states.