FAA Environmental Assessment to Allow Spaceship Launches After Changes

FAA Environmental Assessment to Allow Spaceship Launches After Changes

FAA Environmental Assessment to Allow Spaceship Launches After Changes

PASADENA, Calif. – A Federal Aviation Administration environmental study has concluded that SpaceX can conduct orbital launches of its Starship vehicle from its Texas test site, but only after completing dozens of mitigations to reduce environmental and public impacts.

The FAA issued June 13, after nearly half a year of delay, what is formally known as a mitigated Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for SpaceX’s proposal to conduct orbital launches from its Starship vehicle atop its Super Heavy. booster, from Boca Chica, Texel. The softened FONSI means that from an environmental point of view, SpaceX will be allowed to conduct those launches once it implements more than 75 measures to reduce environmental impacts.

One such solution is changes to closures in the road leading to both the SpaceX site, called Starbase, and a public beach. SpaceX will provide more advanced notices of test and launch closures. Access will be prohibited on 18 public holidays and will be limited to five weekend closures per year. According to FAA documents, the closures will be limited to 500 hours per year for normal operations and to 300 additional hours “to deal with anomalies.” The rating is for up to five orbital launches per year, as well as five suborbital launches and ground tests.

Other measures included in the amended FONSI include changes to lighting at the facility, monitoring of wildlife in the area by a “qualified biologist” and the use of shuttles to transport workers to and from Starbase to restrict traffic. In addition, SpaceX has changed its proposal to eliminate infrastructure such as a desalination plant and power plant that the company says it no longer needs to support launch operations.

However, the completion of the environmental assessment does not give SpaceX final approval to begin orbital launches from Boca Chica. The company must implement the measures and also obtain an FAA launch license, the schedules for which neither the FAA nor SpaceX have disclosed. SpaceX is also continuing to test the Starship/Super Heavy vehicle.

SpaceX appeared to welcome the FAA’s decision. “One step closer to Starship’s orbital flight test,” the company says tweeted, with a link to the FAA website with the decision and related documents. The company made no further comment.

Environmental groups remain concerned about the ramifications of launching spaceships from Boca Chica. “We are disappointed with this decision, but Elon Musk and his team certainly do not want to harm endangered species,” Mike Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy, said in a statement. That organization is concerned about the impact of Starship launches on endangered and threatened species such as the plover in the area.

“We hope the SpaceX team will recognize that life here on Earth deserves more attention and agree to minimize the impact at the Boca Chica facility,” he said.