U.S. FAA delays SpaceX final environmental decision to June 13

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Starship prototypes are pictured at the SpaceX South Texas launch site in Brownsville, Texas

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday again delayed completing a final environmental assessment of the proposed SpaceX Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket program in Boca Chica, Texas until June 13.

In late April, the FAA extended the target date to May 31 for a decision, saying it was "working toward issuing the final Programmatic Environmental Assessment" after several delays. The agency said in April SpaceX had made multiple changes to its application that required additional FAA analysis.SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in February he was "highly confident" his new SpaceX Starship, designed for voyages to the moon and Mars, would reach Earth orbit for the first time this year.

Even in a "worst-case" scenario, in which a full environmental impact statement was required or legal wrangling over the issue threatened to drag on, Musk said SpaceX has a fallback plan.

The company would shift its entire Starship program to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where SpaceX already has received the environmental approval it needs, Musk said.

Such a move would cause a setback of six to eight months, he added. In any case, SpaceX is still shooting for a 2023 launch of what it calls the world's first private lunar mission, flying aboard a Starship to loop around the moon and return to Earth.

The FAA also released 17,000 comments Tuesday that show concerns raised https://cms.faa.gov/sites/faa.gov/files/2022-05/20_Volume_18615-18999_508.pdf about the project impact on migratory birds, endangered species and a nearby wildlife refuge.

The nearby city of Port Isabel, Texas raised "serious concerns" in a November letter warning the "potential impact of noise, vibration and overpressure" and asked the FAA to limit the number of launches per year and restrict the time and conditions when they are allowed.

The FAA notes completing the environmental review does not guarantee the issuance of a vehicle operator license, which is contingent upon meeting FAA requirements for safety, risk and financial responsibility.

(Reporting by David Shepardson. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Chizu Nomiyama)

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