Featured Image Source: Tesmanian.com Journalist Evelyn J. Arevalo @JaneidyEve via Twitter
The U.S 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.
SpaceX engineers are currently performing ground tests of the Starship/Super Heavy prototypes that could perform the first-ever flight to orbit soon. Today, SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared that teams are already installing 33 Raptor engines and said the launch vehicle will be stacked again in "only a few weeks away," he stated, "All Raptor 2 engines needed for first orbital flight are complete & being installed."
The FAA has been conducting the environmental assessment for roughly 11 months now, 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 (USFWS). Today, May 31, the Administration announced it delayed the SpaceX Starbase Environmental Assessment completion another 2 weeks; It is the fifth time it gets delayed. "The FAA intended to release the Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas on May 31, 2022. The FAA now plans to release the Final PEA on June 13, 2022 to account for ongoing interagency consultations concerning Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. All other consultations and analysis have been completed at this time," the FAA announced. The Section 4(f) act requires special consideration to preserve the natural beauty of wildlife refuges and historic sites. SpaceX’s Starship launch site at Boca Chica neighbors a U.S National Wildlife Refuge and a public beach access, as well as a historic landmark. "The completion of the PEA will not guarantee that the FAA will issue a launch license," stated FAA representatives in an email. "SpaceX's application also must meet FAA safety, risk and financial responsibility requirements."
The USFWS submitted a 141-page Biological and Conference Opinion (BCO) report to the FAA on May 12, it details SpaceX’s potential impacts at Boca Chica Beach and what the company can do to help minimize the impact of its activities on wildlife. USFWS concluded that SpaceX Starbase operations' potential effects on wildlife can be mitigated with basic measures –including use of Starlink to monitor animals 24/7 with solar powered equipment and monetary donations to support local environmentalist efforts. "[...] We have determined that the level of anticipated take is not likely to result in jeopardy to the ocelot, jaguarundi, northern aplomado falcon, piping plover, red knot, Kemp's ridley, green, loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles. Although we anticipate some incidental take to occur, the implementation of the conservation measures proposed should ultimately result in avoidance and minimization of adverse effects," wrote USFWS in the document. SpaceX is working with Sea Turtles, Inc. and other local conservation organizations to help protect the sea turtles and all native species.
If the FAA further delays SpaceX Starbase approval to launch Starship from South Texas, Musk said in February that the company has a backup plan. SpaceX already has environmental approval to launch Starship from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. SpaceX already started to build a second Starship orbital launch tower in Florida that is expected to take around six to eight months to complete. SpaceX aims to have a space-ready Starship before the year 2025 when NASA plans to land astronauts on the Moon aboard a lunar-optimized Starship as part of the Artemis program.
All Images Source: Tesmanian.com Journalist Evelyn J. Arevalo @JaneidyEve via Twitter