Lucas, Babin Push Back Against NTSB Move to Expand Role into Commercial Space Accident Investigations

Part of SpaceShipTwo’s fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

WASHINGTON (Frank Lucas/Brian Babin PR) — House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas joined Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Babin in a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) requesting information on their attempts to expand their role in commercial space accident investigations. Concurrently, Babin introduced a resolution to reiterate that commercial space launch is a developmental activity, rather than a mode of transportation.

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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.

FAA Issues RFI for University Teams to Conduct Space Industry Research

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is looking for information about industry teams capable of conducting research into specific space industry segments.

FAA AST issued a request for information (RFI) for university teams to “conduct research activities of historical event data collection and analysis (including single-case and cross-case studies)” for the following segments:

  • orbital launch vehicles for high payload masses (including human orbital transportation)
  • on-orbit capsules
  • on-orbit habitats.
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FAA Invites Public Input on Draft Environmental Review to Operate Huntsville International Airport as Commercial Space Reentry Site

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) invites the public to comment on a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for Huntsville International Airport (HSV) to serve as a reentry site for horizontally landed commercial reentry vehicles. The Draft EA also addresses a proposal by Sierra Space Corporation to land its Dream Chaser vehicle at the site up to eight times between 2023 and 2027. 

The FAA plans to hold a virtual public hearing for the draft review on Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. Central Time as part of the 40-day public comment period that ends on Dec. 22. Public comments can also be submitted to HuntsvilleReentry@icf.com.

The Huntsville-Madison Airport Authority is seeking a Reentry Site Operator License and Sierra Space is seeking a Vehicle Operator License. The draft review is part of both licensing processes. It evaluates the potential environmental impacts of the proposed reentry operations, including associated airspace closures. 

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FAA Again Delays Decision on Controversial Spaceport Camden Plan

Spaceport Camden launch complex (Credit: Camden County)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had again delayed a decision on the controversial Spaceport Camden project in Georgia due to ongoing consultation efforts. The agency’s moved its target date for issuing a Record of Decision (ROD) from Nov. 3 to Dec. 15. It’s the latest in a series of delays for a spaceport that Camden County officials have been attempting to develop for nine years.

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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.

Stucky Turns Blue: Joins Jeff Bezos’ Space Company After Departure From Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Mark Stucky, whom Virgin Galactic demoted as its director of flight test in May and fired two months later, has joined Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company, CNN reports.

Stucky said he will join Blue Origin’s “Advanced Development Programs” team, where he said in a statement to CNN that he will “do my best to contribute to [CEO Jeff Bezos’] amazing vision of humans not just having a continuous presence in space but truly becoming a space-faring species.”

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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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Mojave Spaceport Receives $5.9 Million for Improvements to Longest Runway

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft on runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port following a taxi test. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

MOJAVE, Calif. — The Mojave Air and Space Port has received a $5.9 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to rehabilitate and strengthen portions to Runway 12-30, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) announced.

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FAA Examination of Blue Origin Safety Issues Likely to be Very Narrow

New Shepard launch (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it will examine safety issues about Blue Origin’s crewed suborbital New Shepard vehicle raised by a group of current and former employees in an open letter published on Thursday.

The announcement comes 11 days before four paying customers, one reported to be Star Trek star William Shatner, are scheduled to board New Shepard for a trip to space. While a federal safety review might sound reassuring to these ticket holders, what does it actually mean in practice?

Probably not much.

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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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