The first commercial spaceflight is currently stuck in orbit. Having failed to get permission to bring its orbiting laboratory back to Earth, the Varda Space Industries capsule has circled the globe for two months beyond its planned "mission." The specimens are safe in their craft named a "Winnebago," as Varda patiently waits for the FAA's review of their plans.
"Varda Space Industries launched its vehicle into space without a reentry license," an FAA spokesperson told Ars on Wednesday. "The FAA denied the Varda reentry license application on September 6 because the company did not demonstrate compliance with the regulatory requirements."
The FAA spokesperson said Varda formally requested that the regulatory agency reconsider its decision two days later. "The request for reconsideration is pending," the FAA said…
It's fairly unusual for the FAA to deny outright a commercial launch or reentry license application. An FAA review is currently holding up the second full-scale test flight of SpaceX's giant new Starship rocket, but federal officials are working closely with SpaceX as the company documents dozens of corrective actions it says have been completed following the first Starship test launch in April. Once the FAA completes its review—likely sometime next month, according to a senior FAA manager—the agency will determine whether to issue SpaceX a modified launch license for the next Starship test flight.
But reentry licensing is still relatively new. There just aren't as many reentry vehicles flying, and only two companies have received a commercial FAA reentry license to date.
Paperwork. Always in the way.
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