The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Monday that it will force Elon Musk’s SpaceX to make dozens of changes in the environment before continuing Starship flight tests and launching commercially from its Boca Chica, Texas site.
The FAA announced in a press statement that SpaceX will be required to conduct more than 75 activities to reduce environmental concerns before receiving a launch licence for the location. Water resource protections, noise limits, and biohazard materials control are among the mitigations.
SpaceX will work with a “qualified biologist” on lighting checks to reduce the impact on sea turtles, run an employee shuttle between Brownsville and the plant, and clean up the local Boca Chica Beach on a quarterly basis, among other things.
The company will also help with local education and preservation efforts, such as drafting a historical context study on events in the area during the Mexican War and the Civil War, as well as restoring missing decorations on a local historical marker. In addition, the company will provide $5,000 each year to groups that protect ocelots and endangered birds of prey, as well as a state recreational fishing programme.
The FAA also announced additional guidelines for blocking the public roadway that runs through SpaceX’s complex, including requiring the road to be open on 18 holidays and most weekends.
According to the FAA, SpaceX has already made revisions to its Starbase expansion plans, including deleting infrastructure plans for a desalination plant, natural gas pretreatment system, liquefier, and power plant.
SpaceX did not immediately react to a request for comment from CNBC on Monday, but in a tweet, the company provided a link to the FAA’s website along with the words “One step closer to the first orbital flight test of Starship.”
The business is working on a reusable Starship rocket that will be approximately 400 feet tall and able of transporting cargo and groups of people beyond Earth. SpaceX’s Raptor series of engines power the rocket and its Super Heavy booster.
After the company began to build up its infrastructure and activities on the Gulf of Mexico coast near Brownsville, Texas, the FAA launched a study of the programme in November 2020.
The agency has postponed its final assessment five times in the last six months as it reviews programme feedback. Its decision on Monday, a Mitigated Finding of No Significant Impact, is nonetheless a partial triumph for SpaceX, since it prevents the firm from having to undergo a more thorough evaluation of its operations, known as an Environmental Impact Statement.
On Monday, the FAA provided two key documents: a summary of the environmental assessment and a full list of the company’s responsibilities.
A report acquired by CNBC earlier this year from the US Fish and Wildlife Service established a link between SpaceX activity in the area and recent losses in the local population of the piping plover, an endangered bird species, as part of the FAA’s review. The FWS, on the other hand, advised that SpaceX make only little financial or environmental commitments.
SpaceX has performed many high-altitude flight tests with Starship prototypes, but due to development and regulatory delays, it has yet to reach space. CEO Musk made a presentation on Starship in February at the Starbase facility in Texas, explaining the rocket’s testing path and difficulties.
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