The FAA wants SpaceX to address a number of environmental concerns before approving an expansion of its Starbase launch site, located on the Texas Gulf Coast. The agency asked SpaceX to make more than 75 changes — according to an environmental impact assessment released today — before the company can use the South Texas location to launch flights to the Moon and Mars. Located near Boca Chica, Texas, the launch site has been the center of controversy after SpaceX founder Elon Musk revealed his plans to integrate the surrounding area to support lunar missions.
As Space news noted, this appears to be more of a “yellow light” than a “red light” from the FAA. The agency has issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” for SpaceX’s plans to perform orbital launches with its Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket. In a nutshell, the agency found that there would be no significant environmental impacts, but is asking SpaceX to take some steps to mitigate the environmental damage before it is officially approved.
The FAA’s assessment will only release SpaceX for five orbital launches per year, as well as five suborbital launches and tests. Many of the proposed changes relate to Boca Chica Beach, a nearby public beach that has been closed during Starship testing. The closures prompted the Sierra Club and other groups to sue government officials for what they believe is a violation of the state’s constitution. SpaceX is not allowed to close the road during 18 different holidays and is limited to five weekend closures per year. The FAA is also calling on SpaceX to limit closures to 500 hours per year for normal operations, with an additional 300 hours to deal with any emergencies.
SpaceX seemed to take the FAA’s assessment to heart. “One step closer to Starship’s orbital flight test,” the company says tweeted earlier today.
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