SpaceX (finally) gets approval for Starship launch

It took many months to wait, but the report from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally came out. The government agency has not identified any major environmental obstacles in SpaceX’s plans to launch its Starship spacecraft into orbit from southern Texas. However, Elon Musk’s company will have to make some adjustments to minimize its impact.

SpaceX has been developing a new fully reusable spacecraft called Starship for several years. Propelled from Earth by its Super Heavy booster, this rocket promises to send and land humans on the Moon, and why not on Mars. To carry out its project, Elon Musk’s company established itself near a small village called Boca Chicain South Texas.

This site was not chosen at random. Except for the bottom of the Florida peninsula, this is the southernmost region on the continental United States. However, we know that a launch pad close to the equator facilitates orbital travel in adding the speed of rotation of the Earth to the speed of the rocket. The launch path also passes over water, away from populated areas. This allows to minimize risks for people on the ground.

Over the past few years, the company has been allowed to perform several flight tests of its ship. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had required a new environmental assessment before SpaceX could attempt its first orbital launch (above the atmosphere).

During this first test flight, the Super Heavy booster will attempt a controlled landing in the Gulf of Mexico. The Starship will attempt to land in the Pacific Ocean, off Hawaii.

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Illustration of the SpaceX Starship in orbital flight. Credits: SpaceX

SpaceX has the green light

After several months of waiting and postponements, the government agency finally delivered its report on Monday, June 13. The findings of this assessment underscore that SpaceX’s plans for orbital launches will ultimately only have no significant impact over the region along the Gulf Coast near Brownsville, Texas.

The FAA still requires the company to undertake more seventy-five shares to minimize its impact. Among these measures, SpaceX will have to systematically offer a launch notice, and have the surrounding vegetation and fauna monitored by a biologist. The company will also need to coordinate with state and federal agencies to clear fallen launch debris on sensitive habitats and adjust lighting at its site.

These FAA-required mitigations also limit closures to a highway that passes the SpaceX site during launches so people can get to the nearby beach, park, and wildlife refuge. This highway cannot be closed for eighteen public holidays and no more than five weekends per year.

For the moment, and despite these adjustments, SpaceX therefore has the green light. The company is also authorized to perform 150 static fire tests for Starship ships and 135 for SuperHeavy boosters. The agency also allows five suborbital launches for the Starship/SuperHeavy combo, ten landings for the Starship and five for its booster.

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