FAA requires SpaceX to make environmental adjustments to move forward with its Starship program in Texas

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FAA requires SpaceX to make environmental adjustments to move forward with its Starship program in Texas

PUBLISHED MON, JUN 13 20221:56 PM EDTUPDATED 5 HOURS AGO

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Michael Sheetz@THESHEETZTWEETZ

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KEY POINTS

  • The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday concluded a long-awaited assessment of SpaceX’s Starship rocket program in Texas.
  • In a press release, the FAA noted SpaceX will be required to take more than 75 actions to mitigate environmental impacts before the company can receive a launch license.
  • SpaceX needs a license from the regulator to conduct further Starship flight tests and begin operational launches from its private facility.
A Starship prototype stands on the company's launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas on March 16, 2022.

A Starship prototype stands on the company’s launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas on March 16, 2022.

SpaceX

The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday said it will require Elon Musk’s SpaceX to make dozens of environmental adjustments in order to conduct further Starship flight tests and begin operational launches from its facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

SpaceX will be required to take more than 75 actions to mitigate environmental impacts before the company can receive a launch license for the site, the FAA said in a press release. The mitigations include protections for water resources, limits to noise levels, and biohazard materials control.

Among the requirements, SpaceX will coordinate with a “qualified biologist” on lighting inspections to minimize the impact on sea turtles, operate an employee shuttle between the city of Brownsville and the facility, and perform quarterly cleanups of the local Boca Chica Beach.

The company will also contribute to local education and preservation efforts — including preparing a historical context report of the events of the Mexican War and the Civil War that took place in the area as well as replacing missing ornaments on a local historical marker. The company will also make annual contributions of $5,000 each to organizations that protect ocelots and endangered birds of prey, as well as a state recreational fishing program.

The FAA also issued new rules for closing the public highway that passes by SpaceX’s facility — such as requiring the road be open on 18 specified holidays and most weekends.

SpaceX has already made changes to its expansion of the Starbase facility, according to the FAA, with the company removing infrastructure plans for a desalination plant, natural gas pretreatment system, liquefier and a power plant.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment Monday, but in a tweet shared a link to the FAA’s website with a brief message: “One step closer to the first orbital flight test of Starship.”

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The company is developing its nearly 400-foot-tall, reusable Starship rocket with the goal of carrying cargo and groups of people beyond Earth. The rocket and its Super Heavy booster are powered by SpaceX’s Raptor series of engines.

The FAA began a review of the program in November 2020 after the company began to build up its infrastructure and operations on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, near the city of Brownsville, Texas.

The agency delayed its final assessment five times over the past six months as it reviewed input on the program. Its ruling Monday of a Mitigated Finding of No Significant Impact is still a partial win for SpaceX, saving the company from a more lengthy review of its operations, known as an Environmental Impact Statement.

The FAA released two key documents on Monday: A summary of the environmental assessment and a detailed rundown of the actions the company must take.

As part of the FAA’s review, a report earlier this year from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained by CNBC found a correlation between SpaceX activity in the area and recent declines in the local population of the piping plover, an endangered bird species. However, the FWS suggested minimal spending or conservation commitments from SpaceX.

SpaceX has completed multiple high-altitude flight tests with Starship prototypes, but it has yet to reach space following development and regulatory delays. In February, CEO Musk gave a presentation on Starship at the Starbase facility in Texas, outlining the path forward and obstacles for the rocket’s testing.

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