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FAA official defends SpaceX despite unauthorized December launch

The associate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defended SpaceX during a congressional hearing on Wednesday, even though the company launched a Starship prototype in December without authorization.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) asked FAA associate administrator Wayne Monteith during the hearing on the FAA's role in spaceflight what SpaceX has “done to deal with the operational concerns” and “cultural issues,” according to a report by CNBC.

Monteith, who is said to have previously launched internal criticism at the company, defended SpaceX and the agency’s decision to allow its Starship prototype rockets to continue flying, according to CNBC.

“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, according to CNBC.

Earlier this year, however, Monteith said SpaceX’s actions were “inconsistent with a strong safety culture,” according to The Verge. These comments came after the company violated the agency’s launch license when it sent a test flight of the Starship prototype rocket SN8 in December.

Monteith, who heads the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, was said to have told SpaceX that the company launched the rocket “based on ‘impressions’ and ‘assumptions,’ rather than procedural checks and positive affirmations,” according to the Verge.

According to CNBC, SpaceX reportedly ignored a safety inspector’s caution not to launch, while the company told the FAA that members of Starship’s mission control “assumed that the inspector did not have the latest information.”

SN8 ultimately had a successful high-altitude flight test, but it exploded on impact with the ground when it tried to land, the business news channel noted. It finally landed successfully later on, but only after three test flights and a destroyed Starship prototype, CNBC noted.

SpaceX made headlines in April when it successfully launched four astronauts into space. The astronauts are now working at the International Space Station.

The astronauts are expected to spend six months conducting experiments and maintenance on the space station before returning to Earth.

This article originally appeared on The Hill

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