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.

NASA Armstrong Accomplished Numerous Milestones in 2021

Joby eVOL acoustic test (Credit: NASA)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — This year marks 75 years of flight research at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California and 2021 adds to those achievements. 2021 continued to be challenging while working in a mostly virtual environment, but progress was surely made.

NASA’s next supersonic X-plane, the X-59, is taking shape for upcoming flights; NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, the X-57, completed ground testing to prepare for flights; several Earth science missions were completed around the globe; and many other goals were met to prepare NASA Armstrong for a successful 2022 and beyond.

(more…)

NASA Releases Autonomous Flight Termination Unit Software to Industry

The NASA Autonomous Flight Termination Unit. (Credits: NASA)

WALLOPS, Va. (NASA PR) — NASA has provided an advance release of its NASA Autonomous Flight Termination Unit (NAFTU) software code to the launch industry, a critical milestone toward the final certification of NAFTU, which is on-track for February 2022.

(more…)

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.

Santa Reveals His FAA Safety Naughty & Nice Lists, Thanks FAA for Special Flight Permission on Dec. 24

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) – In an open letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Santa Claus revealed who made it on his FAA Safety Naughty and Nice Lists. 

“I have the utmost gratitude and respect for everyone who makes it their job to keep air travel safe,” writes Santa. “For those people whose bad behavior puts air travel safety in jeopardy, remember: I’m watching!”

(more…)

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.

Superior Court Judge Temporarily Blocks Purchase of Land for Spaceport Camden

Spaceport Camden launch complex (Credit: Camden County)

A Superior Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing Camden County from purchases a 4,000 acres tract from Union Carbide to construct Spaceport Camden.

The order also scheduled an interlocutory hearing on a permanent restraining order for the purchase for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 5. Paul Harris and St. Marys council member James Goodman, who oppose the spaceport project as a waste of money, requested the restraining order on behalf of themselves and about 4,000 other county voters who signed a petition seeking a referendum on the purchase of the property.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued Spaceport Camden a site operator’s license Monday. But without the property the project is defunct.

The county’s option to buy the land from Union Carbide expires Jan. 13 unless it’s extended, as it has been previously. The probate court has 90 days from the filing of the signed petitions on Dec. 14 to vet the signatures and hold a special election. Petitioners are seeking to delay the purchase until the vote can take place.

The spaceport is being designed to support small satellite launch vehicles.

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.

Virgin Orbit Delays Next Launch Until After Merger Vote

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit has delayed its next satellite launch, originally set for Wednesday, Dec. 22, to next month. The launch will come after shareholders of NextGen Acquisition Corp. II vote on Dec. 28 on whether to merge with Richard Branson’s launch services provider.

The merger with the special purpose acquisition company would allow Virgin Orbit to go public on Nasdaq under its own name. The deal will provide $483 million in capital to allow the company to grow.

(more…)

Camden County Officials Hail FAA Decision Granting Spaceport License

Spaceport Camden launch complex (Credit: Camden County)

WOODBINE, Ga. (Camden County PR) — Camden County, Georgia, a rocket testing location and alternate launch site for the Apollo program, has reclaimed its aerospace heritage with the issuance of a launch site operator license (LSOL) by the Federal Aviation Administration for Spaceport Camden. Spaceport Camden is a multi-user, vertical lift, commercial launch site on the Atlantic seaboard that will support up to 12 small vehicle launches per year. 

(more…)

FAA Plays Santa to Camden County, Grinch to Island Homeowners with Controversial Georgia Spaceport License Award

Spaceport Camden launch complex (Credit: Camden County)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite strong opposition from local residents worried about safety, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded a spaceport license to the controversial Spaceport Camden project in Georgia on Monday. The decision will likely transform years of bitter public debate into years of bitter court battles over the project.

(more…)

“Misogyny is rampant”: Former Engineer Attacks SpaceX Culture While Sexual Harassment Lawsuits Pile Up Against Tesla

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former SpaceX engineer Ashley Kosak has published an essay alleging rampant sexual harassment at Elon Musk’s space company, portraying a dysfunctional company where management is unwilling to respond to complaints or to discipline offenders.

The essay was published as seven women filed sexual harassment lawsuits against Tesla Motors, which is another company where Musk serves as CEO. The suits have accused the automaker of “fostering a culture of sexual harassment” against women. In October, Tesla was ordered to pay $137 million in damages to a former African American worker who alleged in a lawsuit he was subjected to racial discriminator and slurs “straight from the Jim Crow era.” Tesla has disputed the claims and is appealing the judgment.

In her essay published by Lioness, Kosak said she incidents of sexual harassment started when she was an intern at SpaceX and continued after she became a full-time mission integration engineer.

(more…)

FAA Decides Bezos, Branson and Shatner Are Astronauts After All

  • Everyone who exceeds 50 miles by Dec. 31 will receive commercial astronaut wing even if they were just passengers
  • Nobody after that will even if they pilot a ship
  • Agency reverses earlier decision to award wings only to those essential to flight operations/success
  • FAA says this is what was intended all along

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) – With the advent of the commercial space tourism era, starting in 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will now recognize individuals who reach space on its website instead of issuing Commercial Space Astronaut Wings. Any individual who is on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth will be listed on the site. 

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.