The FAA wants SpaceX to address a number of environmental concerns before it approves an expansion of the Starbase launch facility, located on Texas’s 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 site 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 incorporate the surrounding area to support lunar missions.
As Space Newsnoted, this seems to be more of a “yellow light” than a “red light” from the FAA. The agency issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” for SpaceX’s plans to conduct orbital launches with its Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket. In a nutshell, the agency found there would be no significant environmental consequences — but is asking SpaceX to take some steps to mitigate environmental harms before it is officially cleared.
The FAA’s review will only clear SpaceX for five orbital launches per year, as well as five suborbital launches and tests. Many of the proposed changes involve Boca Chica Beach, a nearby public beach that has been subject to closures during Starship tests. The closures prompted the Sierra Club and other groups to sue government officials over what they believe is a violation of the state's constitution. SpaceX will be barred from closing the road during 18 different holidays, and will be limited to five weekend closures per year. The FAA also calls for SpaceX to limit closures to 500 hours a year for normal operations, with an added allowance of 300 hours to address any emergencies.
SpaceX seemed to take the FAA’s review in stride. “One step closer to the orbital flight test of Starship,” the company tweeted earlier today.