The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally concluded the SpaceX Starbase environmental assessment on June 13th. The Starbase factory and launch site neighbors a public beach access and U.S. National Wildlife Refuge, as well as historical landmarks. The FAA determined that Starship operations at Boca Chica Beach, Texas, "would not result in significant environmental impacts."
The Administration performed the assessment for almost one entire year to ensure SpaceX's spaceflight activities would not negatively impact the region. Now that the environmental assessment is complete, SpaceX can apply for a spaceflight license to launch Starship to orbit this year. However, the FAA is requiring SpaceX to take over 75 mitigation actions to reduce environmental impacts before receiving the Starship launch license.
SpaceX has agreed on helping protect all local wildlife, including: the ocelot, jaguarundi, northern aplomado falcon, piping plover, red knot and sea turtles. There's only seven species of sea turtles in the world and the Boca Chica Beach/South Padre Island region is home to five species: green, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley.
Some of the mitigations include: protection of water resources, biohazard materials control, noise and light reduction to avoid disturbing wildlife, as well as special monitoring of all animals at Boca Chica with a qualified biologist that will work alongside SpaceX to ensure their safety. "SpaceX will provide a dedicated space for Sea Turtle, Inc. volunteers on SpaceX property to monitor Boca Chica Beach use and to conduct pre‐and post‐ launch surveys at Boca Chica Beach," says the mitigation list document found at FAA's website. "If sea turtle nests are discovered prior to closure and security sweeps, SpaceX will coordinate with Sea Turtle Inc. to remove eggs prior to launch. Findings will be included in the annual report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."
"SpaceX will continue to offer enhanced satellite monitoring via solar powered Starlink to the Peregrine Fund for continuous video coverage of northern aplomado falcon habitat to aid in biological monitoring," the document states.
SpaceX was also asked to implement a shuttle service to transport employees to and from Starbase to limit traffic along the single State Highway 4 road that is surrounded by the wildlife refuge and leads directly to the public beach access. SpaceX will also be required to limit road and beach closures to 500 hours annually, plus 300 additional hours “to address anomalies,” states the FAA document. The company will be limited to five weekend road closures per year and be prohibited from closing access to the beach during 18 holidays.
SpaceX will be allowed to conduct up to five orbital launches annually and five suborbital launches. It is currently preparing to conduct its first-ever orbital flight test which could lift off as soon as July. "Starship will be ready to fly next month," said SpaceX founder Elon Musk, "I was in the high bay & mega bay late last night reviewing progress," he shared.
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