The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is in charge of keeping the United States’ skies in order. Its mission is far-reaching and important, with over a million domestic passengers and innumerable tons of cargo flying in the air every day. The role of approving all the launches that are to be made falls under FAA.
SpaceX can begin orbital launches of its Starship spacecraft from its Texas test facility, according to an FAA environmental evaluation, but only after executing dozens of mitigations to prevent effects on the public and environment.
After nearly a year of delays, the FAA issued a modified FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) on June 13 for SpaceX’s application to launch its Starship vehicle into orbit atop its Super Heavy rocket from Boca Chica, Texas. The mitigated FONSI indicates that SpaceX can continue those deployments once it undertakes more than 75 environmental mitigation measures.
Changes in road closures leading to both the SpaceX facility called Starbase and a public beach are among the mitigations. SpaceX will give more advance notification of testing and launch closures. It will be forbidden to close access during 18 holidays, with a maximum of five-weekend closures annually. According to FAA documents, closures will be restricted to 500 hours annually for normal activities and up to 300 additional hours “to address abnormalities.” The evaluation covers up to 5 orbital launches, five suborbital launches, and five ground tests per year.
Modifications in lighting at the site, wildlife monitoring by a “certified biologist,” and the employment of shuttles to transfer staff to and from Starbase to reduce traffic are among the other mitigations mentioned in the updated FONSI. Furthermore, SpaceX changed its proposal to remove facilities like a power plant and a desalination plant that the business claims it no longer requires to assist launch operations.
The conclusion of the environmental evaluation, however, does not mean that SpaceX may commence orbital deployments from Boca Chica. The business must install the mitigations as well as secure an FAA launch permit, with no timelines provided by either the FAA or SpaceX. The Starship/Super Heavy vehicle is also still being tested by SpaceX.
The FAA decision looked to be welcomed by SpaceX. The business tweeted, “One step nearer to the Starship orbital flight test,” linked to the FAA website with the ruling and accompanying papers.
Environmentalists are still worried about the consequences of Starship deployments from Boca Chica. “While we are disappointed by this decision, we are confident that Elon Musk and his colleagues do not want to damage endangered species,” stated Mike Parr, the American Bird Conservancy president. That firm is concerned about the impact of Starship launches on endangered and threatened animals in the area, like the piping plover.