The FAA Says SpaceX Can’t Expand Its Texas Launch Site—Yet

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After months of Suspended, the Federal Aviation Administration has finally assessed the environmental effects of the planned expansion of the extensive SpaceX star base launch facility near Boca Chica, Texas. The agency says that if SpaceX takes about 75 actions to limit environmental hazards, the company can continue with that expansion and its application for a launch license for its spacecraft and Super Heavy booster rocket.

Boca Chica is a critical place for the company, where engineers have increased the testing of Starship and Super Heavy in anticipation of flights into deep space. But local groups, including those focused on the environment and access to beaches, are concerned about increased pollution, the potential effects of the facility on wildlife, and limitations on access to wildlife. public beaches. The site is located along the Gulf Coast of Mexico and is close to wildlife refuges, populated areas, local roads, liquefied natural gas facilities, and the Mexican border.

The FAA released its initial assessment last September and held two virtual public hearings, through which people in the area, as well as SpaceX fans and critics across the country, could comment. Now, in a report issued today, the agency decided that the company must address a number of issues before obtaining its coveted launch license, including better monitoring of potential effects on vegetation and wildlife. and notify surrounding communities of noise and road closures. .

His decision could have far-reaching implications, as until SpaceX gets the green light from the FAA, he can’t continue with his testing and launch plans for Starship and Super Heavy. The company probably has a lot going on in this rocket. Along with NASA’s space launch system, the Super Heavy will be one of the only heavy-duty launch vehicles capable of transporting humans and equipment to the moon and eventually to Mars. NASA has also invested in a landing version of Starship as part of its Artemis program, by the time astronauts return to the moon in a few years.

At press time, the FAA and SpaceX had not responded to WIRED’s interview requests. But when the assessment came out, SpaceX he tweeted a link, adding: “One step closer to Starship’s first orbital flight test.”

For his part, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had threatened to move the Starship tests to Florida if the FAA process took a long time, or asked for an environmental impact statement, or EIS, for further review. rigorous and longer, which would then be followed. through a mitigation plan to reduce potential ecological damage.

The FAA did not follow this path, but instead ruled SpaceX more favorably with a finding of no significant impact, or FONSI. However, the agency says the company has more work to do and that it includes a lot in its 174-page report. He says SpaceX should allow biologists to monitor the effects on wildlife and should eliminate any release debris that falls into sensitive habitats. SpaceX needs to adjust the lighting to the launch complex to minimize disruption to wildlife and residents; give more advance notice of releases; Limit the closing time on State Highway 4 and avoid closing on weekends and holidays. This environmental review is also not the only review: before SpaceX can continue its Starship launch license application, the Department of Transportation will also assess its potential effects on public safety and national security.

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