FAA says it’s keeping tabs on SpaceX over environmental concerns in South Texas

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The SpaceX Starship spacecroft is seen on Nov. 11, 2020, from Boca Chica Beach, Texas, on the U.S./Mexico border. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

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McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The Federal Aviation Administration says it is tracking SpaceX and environmental concerns regarding the company’s desire to launch its massive Starship Spacecraft from its launch facility on the southern tip of Texas.

“SpaceX cannot launch the Starship/Super Heavy vehicle until the FAA completes its licensing process, which includes the ongoing environmental review and other safety and financial responsibility requirements,” an FAA official wrote in an email Tuesday to Border Report.

“As part of this process, analyses are being conducted that determine collective risk, individual risk and hazard areas on the ground, sea and in the air. SpaceX would not receive a license if it cannot meet FAA safety regulations,” the FAA wrote.

The statements came in response to an article by Border Report on Thursday in which local environmentalists sent the federal agency a letter demanding data and information on the risks to border communities and wildlife from ongoing rocket testing and launches at SpaceX’s facility near Boca Chica Beach, Texas.

SpaceX’s Starship is seen on Oct. 1, 2019, at the launch facility in Boca Chica Beach, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

The nonprofit organization Save RGV on Aug. 30 wrote the agency saying the massive Starship Spacecraft “poses an unacceptable risk of harm to the nearby communities” as well as wildlife, parks and “surrounding fragile tidal wetlands” that are home to many endangered species, such as sea turtles. And they want more oversight since this spacecraft is far bigger and more powerful from what SpaceX initially had proposed and gotten approval from the FAA to test and launch when it first built the launch facility in 2014.

SpaceX wants to launch the the Starship to Mars, and on the company’s website says “Starship will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed.”

Jim Chapman, a board member with Save RGV and president of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, reacted with optimism upon hearing that the FAA had issued a response to Border Report. But he said they, as a group, still have received no formal reaction from the federal agency to their Aug. 30 letter.

“It’s nice to see that in writing,” Chapman said. “At least now they put that on paper to essentially to the public that they are taking responsibility and laying out the requirements so I would term that as a positive response.”

Chapman still wants to know, however, when the FAA will release information from the safety studies to the public.

The FAA in January briefly grounded SpaceX from launching in South Texas after the private company launched its SN8 rocket prototype in December without the FAA’s permission. However, the company in February was allowed to begin tests launches again after the FAA determined it had met “safety and related federal regulations … in accordance with its launch license,” the FAA said in an email to Border Report.

Chapman’s group says given several fiery test launch explosions at the Boca Chica Beach site, the FAA should be tougher on SpaceX in order to safeguard border communities and border wildlife.

He also criticized the recent construction by SpaceX of a 480-foot launch tower, and he says until the company gets permission to launch the Starship, the launch tower that was built in June should be ordered taken down.

The FAA in July warned SpaceX that its environmental review of the new rocket assembly integration tower was incomplete and the federal agency could order it to be removed.

“The FAA chided them for doing that without FAA approval and even mentioned it’s possible that they would make them take it down but no one believes they will make them take it down. It’s basically there to launch Starship Super Heavy,” Chapman said.

An FAA spokesman told Reuters “the company is building the tower at its own risk.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has criticized the FAA via social media and in May the company told the FAA they did not believe an environmental review was necessary because the tower is to be used “for production, research, and development purposes and not for FAA-licensed or permitted launches,” Reuters reports.

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