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Environment

FAA delays decision on SpaceX environmental review for fifth time, says company changed application 'multiple times'

A prototype of SpaceX's Starship spacecraft is seen at the company's Boca Chica  launch facility on September 28, 2019 near Brownsville, Texas. The Starship is a massive space vehicle that, with reusable boosters, is meant to take people to the Moon or even Mars.
John Burnet
/
NPR
A prototype of SpaceX's Starship spacecraft is seen at the company's Boca Chica launch facility on September 28, 2019 near Brownsville, Texas. The Starship is a massive space vehicle that, with reusable boosters, is meant to take people to the Moon or even Mars.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has again delayed whether to issue SpaceX environmental approval of its suborbital launch and expansion plans in South Texas.

The FAA said SpaceX has made “multiple changes” to its environmental assessment application. This is the fifth time the FAA has delayed its decision, with the final iteration of the agency’s environmental assessment initially due in December 2021.

The FAA now says it is planning to release its decision on May 31.

SpaceX plans to test launch a suborbital rocket – a project that is part of the company’s “Starship” project – from Boca Chica Beach in Brownsville. The company also plans to expand its site at Boca Chica Beach by nearly 20 acres into neighboring federal and state wetlands and wildlife reserves.

In February, CEO Elon Musk said if the FAA ordered an Environmental Impact Statement — which could take up to a few years to complete — he would move the launch project to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX already has environmental clearance from the FAA for that site, Musk said.

Musk said launches would occur in a matter of months if the Starship project moved to Florida. He added that he was “highly confident” it would reach orbit this year.

The FAA said SpaceX receiving an environmental clearance does not mean it’s cleared to fly. SpaceX must be issued a launch license in a separate process.

The FAA did not respond to TPR’s questions regarding what SpaceX changed in their application.

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