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FAA issues long-awaited launch license to SpaceX’s South Texas Starship

SpaceX handout
SpaceX Starship's full stack is seen on its launchpad near Brownsville, Texas, U.S. January 9, 2023.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave the go-ahead to SpaceX’s orbital launch on Friday. The approval came after increased social media posts about Starship by the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, who said the FAA launch license was the last step needed to send the rocket to orbit.

“After a comprehensive license evaluation process, the FAA determined SpaceX met all safety, environmental, policy, payload, airspace integration and financial responsibility requirements,” the agency wrote in an email.

This launch license is valid for five years, and the FAA is using some strategies to close and reopen airspace near SpaceX’s Boca Chica site more efficiently, the release said.

SpaceX posted on Twitter two minutes after the FAA's announcement that it was now aiming for Monday to launch Starship.

Internal documents obtained by TPR show that SpaceX was expecting the FAA approval since last week, but the company’s management worried the much-hyped launch scheduled for April 17 could be delayed.

SpaceX VP of Vehicle Engineering Mark Juncosa wrote to employees in an email last week that the company expected the FAA would receive lawsuits from environmentalist groups that would potentially prevent Starship from launching.

“I fear that means there is a chance that we’ll be held until the beginning of May,” Juncosa wrote.

In a subsequent email, he told SpaceX employees that they had to remain “flexible” in case the launch needed to be pushed back due to lawsuits. He added that all employees needed to focus less on “regulatory stuff” and more on getting Starship ready to launch.

In another email, Juncosa said the initial plan to have a “launch rehearsal” on April 17 was scrapped in favor of going forward with the orbital launch, which was supposed to happen later in the week.

Environmentalists alleged the changing plans may reflect SpaceX's attempts to get ahead of lawsuits, with the FAA’s late-afternoon release on Friday giving groups little time to file lawsuits as courts close for the weekend.

An FAA flight notice posted earlier on Friday showed Starship’s launch window to be between 7 a.m. and 10:05 a.m. on Monday.

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Gaige Davila is the Border and Immigration Reporter for Texas Public Radio.