Image Sources: @BocaChicaGal via Twitter / SpaceX FAA Document
SpaceX’s ultimate mission is to make life multiplanetary. "It appears that consciousness is a very rare and precious thing and we should take whatever steps we can to preserve the light of consciousness,” the founder of SpaceX Elon Musk says, “Only now, after 4.5 billion years has that window been open. That’s a long time to wait and it might not stay open for long. I’m pretty optimistic by nature, but there’s some chance that window will not be open for long, and I think we should become a multi-planet civilization while that window is open,” he said in 2019 during a presentation where he unveiled a new design for SpaceX’s next-generation Starship launch vehicle.
Starship is under development at Boca Chica Beach in a small village located in the southernmost tip of Texas. It will be a massive launch vehicle, capable of transporting one hundred passengers and tons of cargo on long-duration voyages to Mars. The aerospace company has tested multiple stainless-steel prototypes of Starship at the SpaceX South Texas Launch Facility, where the first interplanetary spaceport is under construction. SpaceX plans to test launch as many as twenty prototypes before launching a vehicle to space.
Happy Thanksgiving y'all. 🦃🤩🚀 pic.twitter.com/Bbjws9ZSGw— Mary (@BocaChicaGal) November 26, 2020
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it will perform an evaluation of SpaceX’s plans to continue Starship’s development. –“In July 2014, the company completed a years-long environmental impact statement. The document described how SpaceX would use the site as a commercial spaceport to launch a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy rocket roughly once per month. Any major deviations from that plan must be approved by the FAA,” the administration announced in a press release on November 23. “SpaceX has informed the FAA that “it plans to apply for licenses for suborbital and orbital launches of its Starship spacecraft powered by the Super Heavy rocket at its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.”
“The proposed update to Starship/Super Heavy operations falls outside of the scope of the existing final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision for the launch site and requires additional environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” the Administration states. “The FAA is in the beginning stages of conducting the environmental review of the SpaceX proposal and developing a public outreach plan. The FAA intends to provide scoping information for the project soon. SpaceX is working with the FAA to prepare a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) which will be subject to the FAA’s evaluation and approval,” they wrote. To proceed with Starship’s development, SpaceX must complete a new safety and environmental review of the facility for the FAA. If the Administration approves the activity, SpaceX could obtain a new license to continue testing and manufacturing Starship at Boca Chica.
The FAA published documents that reveal SpaceX plans for the South Texas Starship Launch Facility. The documents are dated November 2019, June 2020, and a more recent 'reevaluation' dated May 2020 (linked below). To summarize the documents, SpaceX told the FAA it plans to develop Starship and the Super Heavy rocket booster at the site. The launch vehicles’ development will include around twenty-eight ‘static-fire tests’ and fifteen ‘30-kilometer launch tests’ per year. –“SpaceX is proposing to annually conduct up to 420 seconds of static fire engine tests and 15 hops of the Starship test vehicle. Typical static fire duration is 15 seconds. Suborbital hops would last several minutes and the test vehicle would fly up to 30 km,” SpaceX wrote to the FAA. The document mentions that some future Starship test flights may land “downrange in the ocean” which suggests SpaceX has plans to build a floating platform at sea, similar to a Falcon 9 rocket’s landing droneship.
SpaceX also submitted maps of its plans to expand the Launchpad, pictured below. "SpaceX is proposing to further modify the Vehicle Launch Area [VLA] by adding an additional test pad. The additional test pad will serve as a redundant test pad in the case of an anomaly on the primary test pad," the company wrote to the FAA, "With a redundant test pad, SpaceX would be able to continue testing operations concurrent with repairing a damaged pad. [...] The redundant test pad would be approximately 120 feet by 140 feet and not higher than the existing test pad."
Image Source: SpaceX document to the Federal Aviation Administration
Boca Chica village has a small population of residents, most of the surrounding area is a wild life refuge. To minimize disturbance at night, SpaceX has proposed to the FCC it will minimize its nighttime operations. "SpaceX will continue to implement operational controls to minimize nighttime activity. To support test operations, SpaceX is proposing a maximum of 140 seconds of the proposed maximum 420 seconds of static fire to occur at night, and one out of the proposed 15 hops [low-altitude test flights] to occur at night annually," the company wrote.
SpaceX offered the FAA very detailed information, including data regarding the amount of fuel tanks will have at the launch site, among other technical and environmental details. You can read the full 'Written Re-evaluation' documents in PDF format at the Administration’s website: 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.