The FAA postpones environmental decision on SpaceX’s Starship launches until May

SpaceX’s Starbase plant in Boca Chica, Texas.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

The Federal Aviation Administration delayed for the fourth time its environmental review of SpaceX’s Starship rocket program in Texas, pushing a decision to the end of May.

SpaceX needs an FAA license to conduct additional Starship flight tests and begin operational launches from its private facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The FAA, which began its environmental review in November 2020, delayed taking a decision three previous times in the last five months – from 31 December to 28 February to 28 March to 29 April – and now expects to release the assessment on 31 May.

“The FAA is working towards issuing the final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) … SpaceX made several changes to its application that require further FAA analysis. The agency continues to review about 18,000 comments from the general public,” the regulator said in a statement. declaration.

Starship is the nearly 400-foot-high, reusable rocket that SpaceX has developed, with the aim of creating a vehicle that can transport cargo and groups of people across Earth. The rocket and its Super Heavy booster are powered by SpaceX’s Raptor series of engines.

SpaceX has conducted several high-altitude flight tests with Starship prototypes, but its next big step is to reach space. While that milestone was expected to be reached last year, development has been delayed. The orbital flight test is also awaiting regulatory approval.

In February, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave a presentation on Starship at the company’s Starbase facility in Texas, outlining the way forward and obstacles to rocket testing.

At the time, Musk said SpaceX had a “rough indication that it might be approved in March.” But in line with the FAA’s delays, Musk later said he hoped SpaceX would be able to launch the first Starship orbital flight in May – which after Friday’s FAA update has now been pushed to no earlier than June.

One consideration for Musk and SpaceX is what the company would do with its Starship development program if the FAA decides that a more in-depth assessment is required. In the scenario that would likely mean a launch break from Starbase for additional years, Musk has said that moving Starship operations to Florida’s Cape Canaveral would be the most likely alternative. SpaceX has already begun building a launch pad for Starship due to Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, which SpaceX rents from the agency.

“Worst case scenario is that we would … be delayed for six to eight months in building the Cape launch tower and launching [Starship] from there, “Musk said in February.

The regulator’s continued review represents yet another point on Musk’s diverse plate of projects, in which the billionaire this week sold Tesla shares for more than $ 8 billion while working on taking Twitter private.

Prototypes of SpaceX’s Starship rocket and Super Heavy booster are on display at the company’s Starbase facility in Texas.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

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