The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is conducting an environmental assessment of SpaceX’s Starbase launch site located in the southernmost tip of Texas at Boca Chica Beach in Cameron County. The assessment is to ensure safe spaceflight operations and 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 a debut orbital flight test this year.
The FAA has been conducting the environmental assessment for 10 months and 29 days, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
Today, April 29, the FAA announced it delayed the SpaceX Starbase environmental review completion again, marking the fourth time it has been delayed. “The FAA is updating the release date for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) on the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard and project website. The FAA plans to issue the Final PEA on May 31st,” the administration said. “The FAA is finalizing the review of the Final PEA, including responding to comments and ensuring consistency with SpaceX’s licensing application. The FAA is also completing consultation and confirming mitigations for the proposed SpaceX operations. All consultations must be complete before the FAA can issue the Final PEA,” they wrote in an email. The FAA received 18,000 public comments from residents and also people from across the U.S. who either support or oppose SpaceX activities at the sandy beach village.
Currently, engineers are performing ground tests of Starship prototypes to advance the spacecraft's development, however, SpaceX is still losing valuable time to develop the launch system with every FAA delay. The company’s goal is to reach orbit this year in order to collect data to rapidly improve the spacecraft and increase the pace of iteration on-time to return NASA astronauts to the lunar surface by 2025. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in February that the company already has approval to launch Starship from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and already started to build a Starship orbital launch tower to support flights. If the FAA continues to delay the environmental review and flight license process, it is likely that SpaceX will want to launch from Florida to proceed with Starship’s next phase of development. “Worst-case scenario is that we would ... be delayed for six to eight months to build up the Cape launch tower and launch [Starship] from there,” Musk said earlier this year.
As a native Texan, I hope SpaceX receives FAA approval to continue performing exciting Starship flights at Starbase Boca Chica. I have seen the positive impact the company has had in my community. SpaceX operations have attracted tourism and business into the area and inspire the local community to look at the stars and have hope in an exciting future. SpaceX is making a positive impact and I have not seen the environment affected by the company's activities. in fact, SpaceX employees have rescued cold-stunned turtles during winter and organized beach clean up, among other activities to keep the local environment safe for all wildlife. The City of Brownsville and South Padre Island have seen an economic boost and SpaceX is already the largest private employer with over 1,600 employees at Starbase, 71% are local residents. Read more: SpaceX is Brownsville’s largest private employer with over 1,600 employees at Starbase Texas ~71% are local residents, says Mayor [VIDEO]
Featured Image Source: SpaceX