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Given that it didn’t meet all mission objectives, there’s going to be a “mishap investigation”. If there any ball park figures for the length of this investigation or is just it is done when it is done?

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  • $\begingroup$ Estimating how long a government process will take is dicey stuff, but I don't think it will last very long at all. The key thing which drags the process out appears to be how far from the plan the mission deviated, and IFT3 had basically no deviations at all. Sure, the booster was destroyed at 400 something meters instead of 0 meters (splashdown), and Starship was destroyed during reentry instead of against the ocean surface, but these are very minute differences from what was planned. The FAA's primary focus is the safety of people, not the functioning of Starship/Superheavy $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Mar 16 at 17:01

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There is no way of knowing.

The purpose of the mishap investigation is to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it. How long it takes to figure that out depends on what wrong and how hard it is to figure that out, what needs to be done to fix it, and how hard it is to figure that out.

In other words, in order to know how long the mishap investigation will take, we have to know what went wrong, but that's what the mishap investigation is for in the first place!

The mishap investigation is done by SpaceX. The mitigations are developed by SpaceX. The FAA merely oversees the investigation and approves the report. With both IFT-1 and IFT-2 that happened fairly quickly after SpaceX submitted the report.

So, really, it depends on how long it takes SpaceX to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. From then, it typically only takes days, at the most a couple of weeks, for the FAA to accept the report and close the mishap investigation.

Both vehicles went far further into their flight regimes than on IFT-2. This can mean that they encountered some unforeseen issues that are really obvious, which would make the investigation pretty quick. But it can also mean that, as the vehicles become more and more robust and reliable with every improvement made to them, the failures become more and more obscure and harder and harder to diagnose.

Think about the Amos-6 anomaly with Falcon 9 or the recent Electron anomaly. These vehicles have become so reliable that the only way they can fail now is due to some really complex, interconnected, chain of multiple failures in obscure places that no-one has thought of before.

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    $\begingroup$ "These vehicles have become so reliable that the only way they can fail now is due to some really complex, interconnected, chain of multiple failures in obscure places that no-one has thought of before." BOEING: Hold my beer $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Mar 16 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ "some really complex, interconnected, chain of multiple failures in obscure places " Like burning up on reentry. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 14:00

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