The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is conducting an environmental assessment of SpaceX’s Starbase launch site at Boca Chica Beach, located in the southernmost tip of Texas along the border with Mexico. In September, the FAA published SpaceX’s Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) of the Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at Boca Chica. The Administration released it to inform the public and invite them to voice their opinion about spaceflight activities in the sandy region. The general public can submit a written comment to FAA via email through the month of October until November 1st (visit FAA website for contact information).
The 152-page draft PEA document details SpaceX’s future Starship development plans and how those plans may affect Boca Chica Village and nearby regions, including South Padre Island and the city of Brownsville. The company's draft PEA was carefully assembled and looked at a wide variety of aspects from environmental to socioeconomic impacts to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). SpaceX states in each category that it will not cause significant impact to the region.
The agency also listened to people’s support and concerns over the potential impacts SpaceX Starship operations may cause during two virtual hearings this past week. Over 100 individuals participated in the oral public comments and each had 3 minutes to speak. Supporters who participated in the oral hearing shared why they support SpaceX’s Starship development. "I'm not the only student who has been inspired by these projects, and I am one of many who have the future of my life altered,” said Ethan Maciek, a local Brownsville high school student during the hearing.
“I don’t live near Texas, I have no stake in this currently,” one commenter said. “But I would just like to say that SpaceX is doing an amazing job in Texas, and that I would like to see this process move a bit faster.” Jenny Spicer, who resides in Brownsville, told the FAA –“I am a 100% believer in being a multi-planetary species.”
Even a SpaceX Starlink broadband competitor called the FAA to show support for SpaceX. Joshua Montgomery leads a company called 'Wicked Broadband.' – “We're a competitor to SpaceX for rural broadband and Starlink is going to probably adversely impact my rural business,” he said, “I think that this location is ideal for SpaceX's operation.”
Another supporter, Nate Argroves, shared that SpaceX will help the Brownsville region have economic growth and that they will open a small business and buy a home in the area. – “I would not have done either of those things if it were not for SpaceX, obviously,” they said, “If SpaceX can begin to achieve their goal of colonizing Mars, society will be forced to innovate.”
A local, who lives near Starbase in Port Isabel said SpaceX is not affecting the local environment, “It is clear that their footprint in the wetlands is very limited,” said Michelle Murray. Many other supporters urged the FAA to grant SpaceX a spaceflight license to advance the Starship development program. “America's continued leadership in space and our national security really depends on [SpaceX] being successful,” Jim Avera said, “If SpaceX runs out of money, or runs out of motivation, or runs out of ‘Elons’... that would be the mistake of the century.”
“I urge approval of SpaceX's plan for orbital launches of Starship from Boca Chica,” Gerald Black added, “There may be some mishaps, however, the number of failures will rapidly diminish over time and will pose no significant threat to human life or to widlife.”
A City of Brownsville District 2 Commissioner Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa also participated in the hearing, stating that SpaceX turned the city from one of the poorest in the country to “one of the most sought-after ZIP codes” to live and work. “I don’t just ask you, I beg you to give them that permit,” she said.
However, there was also multiple people who oppose SpaceX’s plans. Some environmentalists voiced their concerns over SpaceX activities at the sandy region to affect a nearby wildlife refuge. A couple of people who claimed to be local residents were upset that SpaceX closes State Highway 4, which is the only road that leads to the public Boca Chica Beach. The company closes the road temporarily during spaceflight activities to ensure public safety. Though, Boca Chica is not the only area with free beach access, across the ocean from Starbase facility is South Padre Island which is at a similar driving distance.
Bill Berg, a member of a nonprofit organization called ‘Save RGV’ also opposed to the Boca Chica launch site and claims wildlife is affected by operations and asked FAA to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before issuing a launch license. A EIS would take months and potentially cause delays with SpaceX’s plans.
According to the draft PEA document, SpaceX plans to conduct up to 20 Starship launches annually. “During the program’s development, SpaceX is proposing to conduct up to 20 Starship suborbital launches annually,” the company wrote, “As the program progresses, SpaceX is proposing to conduct up to five Starship suborbital launches annually. Each launch would include a landing.” These suborbital tests would enable the company to further develop the spacecraft before launching crewed flights.
“SpaceX is proposing to conduct up to five Starship/Super Heavy orbital launches annually. Starship/Super Heavy missions would include Lunar and Mars missions, satellite payload missions, and the possibility of future human flight to the moon and Mars,” the document states. These orbital flights will be supported by a gigantic launch tower. “SpaceX is proposing to construct two permanent integration towers to integrate the Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle. Each tower would be approximately 480 feet tall with a 10-foot lightning rod on top and include black cladding,” the company said. They also included a map (shown below) which outlines where the launch towers will be located. “SpaceX would construct one integration tower adjacent to Pad A and another adjacent to proposed Pad B (Figure 2-6). The launch vehicle would be integrated vertically on the launch pad. Super Heavy would be mated to the launch mount, followed by Starship mated to Super Heavy.”
All Images Source: FAA & SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.