On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration said there are no environmental impediments in SpaceX’s plans to launch a giant new rocket into orbit from southern Texas.
An environmental assessment by the agency concluded that SpaceX’s plans for orbital launches “will not have a significant impact” on the area along the Gulf Coast near Brownsville, Texas. But the FAA is also asking the company to take more than 75 actions to minimize the impact on the surrounding areas where the spacecraft’s flights begin, a vehicle essential to NASA’s plans to return to the Moon as well as Elon Musk’s vision. Company founder and CEO for Mars colonization.
actions mr. Musk must include early notice of releases, monitoring of vegetation and wildlife by a biologist, coordination with state and federal agencies to remove release debris from sensitive habitats, and adjustment of lighting to minimize impact on wildlife and the nearby beach.
Mitigation measures required by the Federal Aviation Administration also restrict the closure of the highway running through the SpaceX site during launches so that people can visit the nearby beach, park and wildlife refuge. The agency said the highway cannot be closed on 18 holidays and no more than five weekends per year.
The decision means that there is no need for a more comprehensive environmental impact statement, which would potentially add years to the project. This decision frustrated some members of the community.
“For them to say there is no significant impact it is ironic,” said Jim Chapman, board member of Save RGV, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group aimed at protecting the Rio Grande Valley. “The effects are simply too big. We still feel that way. The FAA should have known that.”
the master. Chapman said he hopes his group can file a lawsuit to force a more comprehensive environmental review. SpaceX still needs to obtain a license from the FAA for the launches.
SpaceX is located in a small village called Boca Chica, which the company has taken to calling Starbase.
There, for several years, SpaceX has been working on the Starship, a giant stainless steel rocket that will be the most powerful rocket ever. Along with the reinforcement stage, it will stand about 400 feet tall, which is taller than the Statue of Liberty and its base.
It will also, unlike any previous orbital rocket, be fully reusable. This has the potential to drastically lower the cost of sending payloads into orbit — less than $10 million to move 100 tons into space, Mr. Musk said.
Boca Chica offers several factors that make it a suitable place to launch rockets into orbit. Except for the lower part of the Florida peninsula, it is as far south as one can reach in the continental United States. For many missions, the launch pad closest to the equator aids in the journey into orbit by adding the speed of Earth’s rotation to the missile’s speed.
The launch path passes over water, away from populated areas, which reduces risks to people on land.
But other creatures live in the surrounding wetlands, including sea turtles and Kemp’s ridley turtles, both of which are endangered. State Highway 4, which runs adjacent to the SpaceX site, also passes through Boca Chica Beach, Texas State Parks, and the Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. Environmentalists worry that the steady rhythm of spacecraft launches with blasts of thunderous noise and missile exhaust as well as potential explosive accidents will disrupt the ecosystem.
Among SpaceX’s plans for Boca Chica that will impact the environment: installing a solar farm; construction of car parks; construction of processing facilities to be transported by the cargo ship; and more test flights, raising the possibility of additional test explosions that could send debris and powerful shock waves for miles.
The site also created an economic debate. Many officials and residents welcome the influx of money and prestige that SpaceX is bringing to the Brownsville area, where about a third of people live below the poverty line. But others worry that the gentrification will drive out the old residents.
In 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration granted SpaceX environmental permission for SpaceX to test and launch its smaller Falcon 9 rocket. In the past two years, the Falcon 9 has become the most launched rocket on the planet. But SpaceX hasn’t launched any of Boca Chica, and instead has used its other locations in California and Florida.
The Starship is much larger than the Falcon 9 – a spacecraft stacked atop a giant booster called Super Heavy – with even greater impacts on the surroundings.
Consequently, the FAA has requested a new environmental assessment before SpaceX attempts to launch its Starship into orbit. During the first orbital test flight, the Super Heavy booster will attempt a controlled landing in the Gulf of Mexico, while the Starship stage will attempt to land in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii after flying into orbit.
The agency published a draft of the document in September that did not propose any major hurdles that would require SpaceX to make a full environmental impact statement. It had planned to release a final version at the end of December but postponed the date several times, citing the need to consider 18,000 comments on the initial document.
In an update to Starship in February, Mr. Musk said he hopes the FAA will soon give SpaceX the green light to move forward. “We’ve got sort of rough indications that there might be approval in March,” Musk said.
It didn’t happen, but mr. Musk said at the time that the orbital launch attempt could occur “two months after” approval. The company has yet to announce an updated launch schedule based on Monday’s decision.
SpaceX also plans to launch Starships from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In addition to the final flights to Mars, the Starship will be used by NASA to transport astronauts from orbit around the Moon to its surface. The company won a $2.9 billion contract for the mission, competing for two other bidders: Blue Origin, the missile company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and defense contractor Dynetics. The date of the lunar landing, on paper, is set for 2025, but it is expected to be delayed. In addition to work on the Starship, returning astronauts to the Moon requires the Space Launch System, another large rocket under development by NASA that is also behind schedule.