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FAA delays Environmental Decision on SpaceX’s Starship launchings to May

FAA delays Environmental Decision on SpaceX’s Starship launchings to May

SpaceX’s Starbase facility at Boca Chica in Texas, is now open.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

The Federal Aviation Administration has delayed its fourth environmental review of SpaceX’s Starship Rocket program in Texas for the fourth consecutive time. It pushed a decision back to May.

SpaceX requires a license from FAA to conduct Starship flight tests and launch operational launches from its private facility at Boca Chica in Texas. The FAA began its environmental review in November 2020. It has delayed making a decision three times in the last five months, from Dec. 31 through Feb. 28. to March. 28 to April. 29 and expects to release the assessment by May 31.

“The FAA is currently working towards issuing the final Programmatic Environmental Assessment. (PEA)…. SpaceX made multiple modifications to its application that will require additional FAA analysis. “The agency continues to review approximately 18,000 general public comments,” said the regulator in a statement.

SpaceX’s Starship is a nearly 400-foot tall, reusable rocket. It was designed with the goal to create a vehicle that can transport cargo and people beyond Earth. SpaceX’s Raptor engines power the rocket and its Super Heavy booster.

SpaceX has successfully completed several high-altitude flight tests using Starship prototypes. However, its next major goal is to reach space. SpaceX was expected to reach this milestone last year, but development progress has been slowed. Regulation approval is still needed for the orbital flight test.

Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, presented a presentation on Starship at Starbase in Texas in February. He described the company’s plans and the obstacles that would prevent the rocket from being tested.

Musk stated that SpaceX had a “rough indication” that approval might be granted in March. Musk has since stated that he expected SpaceX to launch the first Starship orbital spaceflight in May. However, Musk is following the FAA updates and said that he was hoping SpaceX would be able do so in May. The FAA update on Friday now pushes the launch date to June.

Musk and SpaceX should consider what they would do with their Starship development program, if the FAA does a deeper assessment. Musk stated that moving Starship operations from Starbase to Florida’s Cape Canaveral is the best alternative in such a scenario. This would likely result in a launch hiatus for Starbase for an additional year. SpaceX already has started building a launchpad for Starship at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX leases the facility from the agency.

“Worst case scenario is that we would… have to delay for six to 8 months to build up Cape launch tower and launch [Starship]Musk stated in February that “from there”

The regulator’s continued review is yet another item in Musk’s varied list of projects. Musk this week sold more than $8B worth of Tesla stock, as he works on taking Twitter private.

SpaceX’s Starship rocket prototypes and Super Heavy booster stand at its Starbase facility in Texas.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

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