Video: Angry Astronaut Looks at the Environmental Obstacles SpaceX Faces Getting Starbase Approved

Editor’s Note: Not a bad analysis. He points out the questionable wisdom of launching the largest, most powerful rocket ever built from a base placed in the middle of a wildlife preserve with a number of endangered or threatened species.

However, he’s off in terms of some of his criticism. The FAA approval for 12 Falcon 9/Heavy launches annually included the right to test experimental vehicles at the site. Elon took that provision and drove Boosterzilla through it while abandoning plans for any Falcon 9 or Heavy launches from Boca Chica. Should the FAA has foreseen that? Maybe. Or just eliminated the provision for testing experimental vehicles?

As use of the facility changed, the FAA kept approving upgrades and expansion of the site even as the use completely changed. The agency finally chose an environmental assessment (EA) that SpaceX is writing over a much more rigorous and time consuming environmental impact statement (EIS). An EIS was done for the original approval; conservancy groups have been argument for another one given the significant changes in SpaceX’s plans. The wisdom of FAA’s decision to go with the less rigorous EA will likely end up being debated in court, delaying the project further.

FAA has dual mandate when it comes to commercial space: promote the industry while at the same time regulating it. The investigation into the SpaceShipTwo crash exposed that FAA was under political pressure to keep commercial space programs moving. Not just SpaceShipTwo but across the board. FAA knew the failure analysis for pilot error was deficient, but issued a waiver to allow the flight test program to continue. It was 15 months later that pilot error destroyed the ship.

So, I highly doubt that FAA’s delay had anything to do with accommodating SpaceX’s schedule, which is probably also delayed. An EA takes time to complete. The original Dec. 31 estimate was simply unrealistic. There were 18,000 comments to respond to in writing. FWS has serious concerns about endangered species that need to be addressed.

FAA Delays Completion of SpaceX Boca Chica Environmental Assessment by Two Months

SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility. A purple line extends around the developed areas of the site. New facilities are at the bottom. (Credit: SpaceX with Parabolic Arc labels)

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — The FAA plans to issue the Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the SpaceX Starship / Super Heavy project on Feb. 28, 2022. The previous target date was Dec. 31, 2021.

Under the oversight of the FAA, SpaceX is currently drafting responses for the over 18,000 public comments received on the Draft PEA and continues to prepare the Final PEA for the FAA’s review and acceptance. In addition, the FAA is continuing consultation and coordination with other agencies at the local, State and Federal level.

The environmental review is just one part of the FAA commercial space licensing process.  SpaceX’s license application must also meet FAA safety, risk and financial responsibility requirements.

Completion of FAA Environmental Assessment of SpaceX Boca Chica Expansion Delayed At Least Another Month

Super Heavy/Starship system in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

FAA’s plan to complete work on the preliminary environmental assessment for SpaceX’s expanded operations at Boca Chica by the end of December has been pushed back at least a month to end of January.

This is due to the need for additional interagency consultation on the Endangered Species Act relating the impacts of Super Heavy/Starship launches and landings at the south Texas site. ESG Hound, who has been following the review closely, has all the details.

The result is that Elon Musk’s plan to launch the first Super Heavy/Starship flight in January or February will be pushed back. ESG Hound believes the Jan. 31 is unrealistic.

FAA Aims to Complete Boca Chica Environmental Assessment By Dec. 31

Starship SN8 takes off from Boca Chica, Texas. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

WASHINGTON (FAA Update) — The FAA has three updates related to the SpaceX Starship / Super Heavy environmental review.

First, the transcripts from the Oct. 18 and Oct. 20 public hearings are now posted and available in English and Spanish.

Second, during the public comment period, the FAA received more than 17,000 written comments. The agency also received 121 verbal comments during the two public hearings.

Finally, the project is now posted on the U.S. Department of Transportation Permitting Dashboard. It shows a timetable for major milestones, including a target date of Dec. 31, 2021, to conclude the environmental assessment process.

FWS Says SpaceX Boca Chica Operations Have Severely Impacted Wildlife Refuge, Criticizes FAA Environmental Assessment as Inadequate

Debris from a Starship MK1 pressure test explosion in November 2019 with arrows showing how the pieces were removed from the marshland. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX’s operations at its Boca Chica test site in Texas have severely impacted the adjacent Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and its wildlife due to rocket explosions, wildfires and excessive road and beach closings, according to a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Federation Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Frequent closures of the Refuge caused by SpaceX activities are already substantially impairing both the Refuge’s ability to adequately manage the Refuge and the public’s enjoyment of the Boca Chica Beach area for wildlife-dependent recreation. There are both ‘adverse’ and ‘severe’ impacts to Refuge public use, management, wildlife, and habitat from the SpaceX activities,” the letter said.

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FAA Public Hearings on SpaceX Boca Chica Report Focused Little on Environmental Impacts

Credit: FAA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) held two public hearings last week on the preliminary environmental assessment on SpaceX’s plans to expand its operation at Boca Chica in Texas. One was held on Monday, and the other two days later.

The commenters have been a very mixed bag, with very few actually focused on the environmental impacts of enlarging the base to launch SpaceX’s massive Super Heavy/Starship vehicle. When FAA approved the Boca Chica site in 2014, SpaceX had been planning to launch a dozen smaller Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets annually from the facility.

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SpaceX Fires Raptor Vacuum Engine at Starbase

SpaceX fired the first firing of its Raptor vacuum engine while integrated into a Starship vehicle. The engine is used in the vacuum of space.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk tweeted that Starship No. 20 could be ready for a suborbital flight next month. The vehicle would take off from Boca Chica, Texas and land in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

The flight is dependent upon approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is considering SpaceX’s plan to expand its Texas facility to accommodate launches of Starship and Super Heavy. FAA held two public hearings last week about the plan.

SpaceX is moving ahead with development of the Boca Chica site, which it has dubbed Starbase, despite a lack of approval from the FAA.

FAA to Hold Virtual Hearings Next Week on SpaceX’s Expansion at Boca Chica

Starship SN15 takes off on May 5, 2021. (Credit: SpaceX website)

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — Please join the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a public hearing on the Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas.

The FAA will provide a project overview in English and Spanish. Afterwards, members of the public can provide oral comments. The presentations will be posted on the project website after the public hearings:  https://www.faa.gov/space/stakeholder_engagement/spacex_starship/

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Environment Engineer Says Assessment of SpaceX Boca Chica Expansion is Deceptive, Incomplete and Illegal

Starhopper aborts a hop attempt at Boca Chica. (Credit: SpaceX webcast screen shot)
  • Assessment authors accused of submitting false emissions numbers
  • Report leaves out entire structures and their environmental impacts
  • FAA accused of illegally fast tracking approval using less rigorous environmental assessment than required by law

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An environmental engineer has raised serious questions about the completeness and appropriateness of a draft programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) that covers SpaceX’s major expansion of its Starbase rocket launch and test site in Boca Chica, Texas.

According to a 12-part series on the blog ESG Hound, the assessment that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released for public comment last month violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to evaluate all of the impact of the project, which sits amidst environmentally sensitive saltwater wetlands.

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FAA Extends Public Comment Period for SpaceX’s Boca Chica Launch Site

SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility. A purple line extends around the developed areas of the site. New facilities are at the bottom. (Credit: SpaceX with Parabolic Arc labels)

FAA Notice of Public Comment Period Extension and New Public Hearing Dates for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has received requests for an extension of the public comment period for the Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas (Draft PEA). In consideration of these requests, the FAA is extending the public comment period for the Draft PEA. The FAA is also setting new public hearing dates which will provide additional time for the public to review the Draft PEA prior to the public hearing.

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Draft Environmental Assessment Recommends Starship/Super Heavy Launches From Boca Chica

Super Heavy/Starship system in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

The draft document, available for download as a PDF here, says the FAA’s proposed action “is to issue one or more experimental permits and/or a vehicle operator license to SpaceX that would allow SpaceX to launch, which can include landing, Starship/Super Heavy. SpaceX’s goal is to use Starship/Super Heavy for low Earth orbit, sun-synchronous orbit, geostationary transfer orbit, and interplanetary missions for cargo and humans.”

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FAA Invites Public to Comment on Draft Environmental Review of SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Program

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today invited the public to provide its input on the draft environmental review for the proposed  SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy program in Boca Chica, Texas. 

The draft document, formally called a Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA), evaluates the potential environmental impacts of SpaceX’s initial mission profile for the program, including launch and reentry. It also reviews debris recovery, the integration tower and other launch-related construction, and local road closures in Boca Chica, among other issues. 

The FAA plans to hold virtual public hearings on Oct. 6 and 7 as part of the 30-day public comment period that ends on Oct. 18, 2021.

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Report: Government Documents Allege SpaceX has Violated FAA Permit, Encroached on Boca Chica National Wildlife Refuge

Starship SN8 takes off from Boca Chica, Texas. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

60 Minutes+ reports that government documents back up allegations that SpaceX’s Starbase test facility in Texas has violated its federal permit through excessive road closings and has encroached and trespassed on the protected Boca Chica National Wildlife Refuge.

The documents back up a claim by the environmental group Save Rio Grande Valley (Save RGV) that SpaceX has been closing the Texas state highway that runs through its operation for more than the 300 hours per year allowed under the permit from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The organization sent a letter to the local district attorney outlining its concerns.

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Video: Starbase Launchpad Tour with Elon Musk

Video Caption: Join me as I take a tour of SpaceX’s Starbase launchpad with Elon Musk as our tour guide! This is part 3 or 3, so if you haven’t seen parts one and two, definitely start there!