The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to complete an environmental review of the proposed SpaceX Starship spacecraft and superheavy rocket program in Boca Chica, Texas as early as Tuesday.
In late April, the FAA extended the target date to May 31 for a decision, saying it was “working to release the final programmatic environmental assessment” after several delays. The agency said in April that SpaceX had made several changes to its app that required additional FAA analysis.
The FAA noted that completion of the environmental review does not guarantee issuance of a vehicle operator license, which is contingent on meeting FAA safety, risk, and financial responsibility requirements.
The FAA released a 151-page draft environmental review in September that examined the potential environmental impacts of SpaceX’s initial mission profile and examined debris recovery, local road closures in Boca Chica and other issues. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in February he was “very confident” his new SpaceX Starship, designed for trips to the moon and Mars, would reach Earth orbit for the first time this year.
Even in the “worst-case scenario,” in which a full environmental impact statement was required or legal wrangling over the issue threatened to drag on, Musk said SpaceX has a fallback plan.
The company would move its entire Starship program to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., where SpaceX has already received the environmental approval it needs, Musk said.
Such a decision would result in a setback of six to eight months, he added. Either way, SpaceX is still shooting for a 2023 launch of what it calls the world’s first private lunar mission, flying in a spacecraft to circle the moon and back to Earth.