SpaceX moves one step closer to the first Starship orbital flight test as a long-time pending FAA environmental approval is finally in its favor. The first Starship orbital flight was originally planned for Jan 2022 by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk but the FAA review process took way longer than expected.
In September last year, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reviewed the first draft programmatic assessment (PEA) prepared by SpaceX. The public review and voting process for this draft PEA closed on 18th October 2021. Since then, it has been a long and somewhat a silent journey for the Starship program.
The FAA issued the following statement in response to the review of the final PEA prepared and submitted by SpaceX:
After reviewing and analyzing all available data and information on existing conditions and potential impacts, as well as the mitigation identified in the PEA which SpaceX must implement, the FAA has determined the Proposed Action would not significantly affect the quality of the human environment. Therefore, the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is not required, and the FAA is issuing this Mitigated Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). The FAA has made this determination in accordance with applicable environmental laws and FAA regulations.Mitigated Finding of No Significant Impact and Record of Decision (ROD) for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas (full PDF report here). Source: FAA.
The term “Proposed Action” in these documents refers to Starship launches and landings at Starbase, Boca Chica, Texas (Cameron County).
The document also mentions 3 possible landing locations for the Super Heavy rocket booster (1st stage) and the Starship spaceship (2nd stage). These locations include the Starbase Boca Chica, Texas landing pads (caught by the Mechazilla Chopsticks), the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean (near Hawaii).
During this FAA environmental review process that took around 9 months, SpaceX accelerated the Starship, Super Heavy, and Raptor 2 engine development. The SN20 prototype was retired from the first orbital test in favor of another prototype which is currently considered to be the SN24 (aka Ship 24) prototype.
SpaceX has already installed the heat-shield tiles on Starship SN24, a task that took a lot of experimenting and even failures during Starship SN20 tests. According to the latest reports from Boca Chica, Starship SN24 has been placed near a launch tower at Starbase.
Since one of the main hurdles in testing the Starship for an orbital flight, Elon Musk has been inevitably asked for the first orbital flight test on Twitter. “Starship will be ready to fly next month (July 2022). I was in the high bay & mega bay late last night reviewing progress,” Elon Musk replied.
Musk also shared the schedule of the upcoming Starship orbital flights, the 2nd flight test will happen in August and then monthly thereafter, he tweeted.
This means that we are talking about somewhere between 4 to 6 Starship orbital flights in 2022 alone. This will bring a lot of experience to the SpaceX Starship design and development teams and prepare them for the future low-Earth orbit (LEO), Moon, and Mars spaceflights.
SpaceX Starship FAA final PEA (PDF)
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