FAA Delays Environmental Assessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica Launch Plans to Late April

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

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — The FAA intends to issue the Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the SpaceX Starship / Super Heavy project on April 29, 2022. The previous target date was March 28, 2022.

The FAA is currently reviewing the Final PEA and completing consultation and coordination with agencies at the local, State, and Federal level.

The completion of the environmental review will not guarantee that the FAA will issue a license to SpaceX to launch its Starship / Super Heavy vehicle. SpaceX’s license application must also meet FAA safety, risk and financial responsibility requirements.

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.

FAA Posts Draft Environmental Assessment for Sierra Space Landing Operations in Florida

The Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — Today, the FAA posted a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for Sierra Space to conduct Dream Chaser reentry operations at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) in Florida. The public comment period ends on January 24, 2022.

Sierra Space is seeking a Vehicle Operator License and is proposing up to 14 reentry operations at SLF during 2022-2026:  one in 2022, up to two in 2023, up to three in 2024, and up to four in both 2025 and 2026. The FAA license evaluation process includes the environmental review as well as safety, risk and financial responsibility requirements.

At this time, the FAA does not intend to host a public meeting. However, a slide deck presentation  discussing the Draft EA is posted online for review.

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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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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Environmental Review Paves Way for Virgin Orbit Launches From Guam

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An assessment has concluded that Virgin Orbit (VO) could conduct satellite launches out of Anderson Air Force Base on Guam without having any significant impact on the environment.

The Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is a major step forward for Richard Branson’s company, which is seeking a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch from the U.S. island commonwealth. The finding eliminates the need to conduct a lengthier and more detailed environment impact statement.

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FAA Holding Public Scoping Period for SpaceX Boca Chica Environmental Assessment

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

SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site Scoping Period
FAA Announcement

The FAA is holding a public scoping period to assist the FAA in determining the scope of issues for analysis in the draft environmental assessment (EA). As a part of the public scoping period, the FAA requests public comments. More information about providing public comments can be found at the end of this email.

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FAA To Begin Environmental Review at SpaceX Texas Launch Site

Rendering of SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch complex. (Credit: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — SpaceX has informed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that it plans to apply for licenses for suborbital and orbital launches of its Starship spacecraft powered by the Super Heavy rocket at its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.

The proposed update to Starship/Super Heavy operations  falls outside of the scope of the existing final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision for the launch site and requires additional environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

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SpaceX Tells Boca Chica Residents: Sell Now or Else!

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

Vice reports that SpaceX gave a Friday deadline for two Boca Chica Village homeowners to sell their homes or Elon Musk’s launch provider would pursue “alternate approaches” to get them to vacate the settlement near the company’s south Texas spaceport.

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