Featured Image Source: Photographer John Kraus via polarisprogram.com
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is conducting an environmental assessment of SpaceX’s Starbase launch site located at Boca Chica Beach, in the southernmost tip of Texas. The assessment is to ensure safe spaceflight operations. It evaluates potential environmental impacts of SpaceX’s Starship/Super Heavy development program, which involves ground testing and launching up to 20 methane-fueled spacecraft annually. Completing an environmental review is required for SpaceX to apply for a Starship/Super Heavy flight license to conduct an orbital flight test.
The FAA published an 152-page Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) document in September 2021 that details the Starship program’s potential impacts in South Texas and invited the public to submit public comments to voice their support or concerns for SpaceX operations at Boca Chica Beach. The FAA received more than 19,000 written comments and around 120 oral comments during a pair of public hearings. The Administration said it will post the comments on its website by February 18th.
Starbase is situated on a small beach village that neighbors a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge. The FAA is conducting the environmental review of the launch site alongside the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. The FAA aimed to complete the environmental assessment by February 28 this year. On Monday, February 14, the FAA announced it delayed the completion of the environmental assessment until the end of next month. The delay pushes SpaceX’s first orbital Starship flight test by another month. The assessment has been delayed once before. “The FAA now plans to release the Final PEA on March 28, 2022 to account for further comment review and ongoing interagency consultations. A notice will be sent to individuals and organizations on the project distribution list when the Final PEA is available,” the Administration said. The Administration must go through all 19,000 comments to address every potential concern to complete the final environmental assessment and make a decision to authorize SpaceX to conduct Starship launches this year.
On Thursday, February 10, SpaceX founder Elon Musk held a Starship update presentationwhere he discussed the company’s development progress of the launch system. During the presentation, he mentioned that SpaceX hopes the FAA completes the assessment soon and gives the green light for liftoff. “[…] We need to make it work, so it doesn’t work yet. It will work — might be a few bumps along the road but it will work. At this point, I feel highly confident well get to orbit this year,” he said. “We don’t have a ton of insight into where things stand with the FAA. We have gotten sort of a rough indication that there may be an approval in March, but that’s all we know.”
“I think objectively this is not something that will be harmful to the environment. We’ve obviously flown the ship several times, and done multiple landings, takeoffs and landings, we fired the engines a lot…I think the reality is it would not have a significant impact,” he said. "[...] So right now, I think we're tracking to have the regulatory approval and hardware readiness around the same time."
The FAA continues its Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the proposed @SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy project in Boca Chica, Texas. The new target date for issuing the Final PEA is March 28. Learn more at https://t.co/CZy1jVb5qM. #FAASpace pic.twitter.com/vsjQ8R22Rn— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) February 14, 2022
Featured Image Source: Photographer John Kraus via polarisprogram.com (Flickr)