The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday again delayed completing the final environmental assessment of the proposed SpaceX Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket program in Boca Chica, Texas, until June 13.
In late April, the FAA extended the target date to May 31 for a decision, saying it was “working on issuing the final PEA” after several delays. The agency said in April that SpaceX had made multiple changes to its app that required additional analysis by the Federal Aviation Administration. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in February that he was “very confident” that SpaceX’s new rover, designed for trips to the Moon and Mars, would reach Earth’s orbit for the first time this year.
Even in a “worst-case” scenario, where a full environmental impact statement is required or the legal debate over the case threatens to drag on, Musk said SpaceX has a back-up plan.
Musk said the company will shift its entire Starship program to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where SpaceX has already received the environmental approval it needs.
He added that such a move would lead to a setback of between six and eight months. In any case, SpaceX is still filming a 2023 launch of what it calls the world’s first private lunar mission, flying a spacecraft to go around the moon and back to Earth.
The FAA also issued 17,000 comments Tuesday showing concerns raised about the project’s impact on migratory birds, endangered species and a nearby wildlife refuge.
The nearby city of Port Isabel, Texas, raised “serious concerns” in a letter in November warning of the “potential impact of excessive noise, vibration and pressure” and asked the FAA to limit the number of launches per year and to limit the time and conditions when they are permitted.
The FAA notes that completing an environmental review does not guarantee issuance of a vehicle operator’s license, which is contingent upon meeting FAA requirements for safety, risk and financial responsibility.
© Thomson Reuters 2022