According to a long-awaited review by the US Environmental Protection Agency, SpaceX can continue constructing and testing its massive Starship vehicle in South Texas as long as the business takes care to minimize its impact on the environmentally sensitive area. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),
A programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) was conducted by the FAA to analyze the environmental implications of Starship activities at Starbase, SpaceX's facility near Brownsville.
The PEA was supposed to be produced by the end of 2021, but the FAA repeatedly postponed it, citing the need to consult with other agencies and review the thousands of public comments received in response to a draft version released in mid-September.
The FAA announced on June 13 that the work was completed. And the outcome is generally positive for SpaceX: the company can continue its Starship work at Starbase, which is presently focused on preparing the massive vehicle for its first orbital test flight, without the need for an environmental impact statement, a more stringent and time-consuming evaluation.
However, the final PEA does not offer SpaceX complete freedom in and around Starbase, which is located along the Texas Gulf Coast in a biodiversity hotspot. More than 75 activities must be taken by the company to decrease its environmental impact on the area.
"After consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there will be more advanced notice of launches to reduce how long State Highway 4 is closed during launch operations. The highway traverses Boca Chica Beach, Texas State Parks, and the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge," FAA officials wrote in an emailed statement today.
Other steps SpaceX must take include allowing a biologist to monitor plant and animal populations in the area, informing the local community about activities that could produce loud noises like sonic booms, assisting in the removal of launch debris from sensitive habitats, and changing its lighting setup to reduce the impact on the nearby beach and nocturnal wildlife.
Super Heavy, a massive first-stage booster, and Starship, a 165-foot-tall (50-meter) upper-stage spacecraft, make up Starship. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, has stated that both of these elements will be fully and quickly reusable.
Starship is envisioned by SpaceX as a possibly revolutionary transportation system that will make Mars colonization and other exploration achievements economically achievable. NASA sees potential in the craft and has selected it as the first crewed lunar lander for the Artemis moon mission.