FAA’s SpaceX spacecraft review will last at least 2 more weeks

What is happening

The federal agency that oversees commercial space launches isn’t quite ready to greenlight Elon Musk’s big rocket.

why is it important

A required exam is taking several months longer than originally planned, and Musk is already far behind his original schedule to send humans to Mars via Starship.

And after

The FAA could issue a launch license, or impose another deadline, by mid-June.

After several months of delay, there are signs that the Federal Aviation Administration is getting closer to finalizing a environmental assessment required and issue a launch license for the first orbital flight of the rocket that Elon Musk hopes will send humans back to the moon and Mars.

That said, the FAA announced Tuesday morning that it was once again extending its self-imposed deadline to complete the environmental assessment. But this time, the delay is only two more weeks, rather than the extra month or two the FAA has given itself in past postponement announcements.

“The FAA intends to release the final programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy project on June 13, 2022,” the agency said in an emailed statement. “Interagency consultation is ongoing. Completion of the PEA will not guarantee that the FAA will issue a launch license. SpaceX’s application must also meet FAA safety, risk, and financial accountability requirements.”

More than 18,000 public comments were submitted during the environmental review process that began in 2021. The FAA has been consulting with SpaceX and other government agencies over the past few months to mitigate as many concerns about environmental impacts as possible mission potential.


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The current plan will see SpaceX launch a prototype spacecraft paired with a Super Heavy booster for the very first time. The vehicle would take off from the company’s Starbase facility in Texas for a brief flight into orbit, then return for a splashdown off the coast of Hawaii. The booster will attempt a landing on an offshore landing pad in the Gulf of Mexico.

Originally, the FAA hoped to complete the evaluation by the end of 2021, but the deadline has been pushed back several times, more recently from the end of April to May 31.

The best-case scenario for Musk and SpaceX would be a conclusion of no significant impact, or FONSI, from the assessment process, which may include additional measures or modifications that SpaceX will need to undertake before launch, but would likely allow at launch to move forward as early as the middle of next month.

It’s also possible that the FAA will find that a more rigorous environmental impact statement is needed, a process that could delay Starship’s launch by months.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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