U.S. FAA SpaceX final environmental decision set for as early as Tuesday
WASHINGTON, May 31 (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to complete an environmental review of the proposed SpaceX Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket program in Boca Chica, Texas, as early as Tuesday.
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.
The FAA has noted that 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.
The FAA released a 151-page draft environmental review in September that looked at potential environmental impacts of SpaceX’s initial mission profile and reviewed debris recovery, local road closings in Boca Chica and other issues. 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.
Reporting by David Shepardson. Editing by Gerry Doyle