On Friday, September 17 this year. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a draft document called the Program Environmental Impact Assessment, including preliminary conclusions from the analysis conducted in terms of the environmental impact of launches from SpaceX in Texas. For the next month from the moment of publication (until October 18), these results will be consulted – comments and opinions are collected on the proposals for the planned starts from Boca Chica. In the meantime, there will also be two online debates (6 and 7 October) on the above issue.
Formal approval under an environmental assessment is a prerequisite to allow Elon Musk to conduct orbital testing of the Starship rocket. The environmental assessment prepared so far, which was prepared with the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket in mind, is insufficient, although so far it has been based on the implementation of the current test flights of the prototypes of the upper segment of the Starship system (SN8, SN9, SN10, SN11 and SN15). At the same time, the FAA has not yet been able to fully measure the potential environmental impact of the new super-heavy rocket.
Based on the evaluation, the FAA will decide whether to issue SpaceX a license to continue take-offs or to allow a specified number of spacecraft / super-heavy rocket orbital experiments. Previous low-altitude test highs used an earlier environmental assessment, originally prepared for the planned launch of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from a launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. This prior review was considered insufficient to account for the environmental impact of the much larger Starship / Super Heavy configuration.
The report’s “draft” assumes that twenty Starship sub-orbital test flights and up to five orbital take-offs should be acceptable over a period of time. As you can easily guess here, SpaceX’s declared demand for space flights in the near future is significantly higher. However, the FAA step is to issue another environmental opinion between the fifth and sixth starts. At the same time, the FAA made a reservation that information from previous reports would be largely used for subsequent assessments.
It is worth adding that this report does not consider whether the FAA should prohibit a particular type of Starbase mission, but tries to determine the most real environmental effects of the 120-meter launching activities and potential ways to mitigate this impact on nature. As it is indicated (including in the reports of the SpaceNews website), the report may also lead the FAA to adopt a “more decisive” attitude in terms of the impact of SpaceX technology on the environment.
The report proposal takes into account many factors of start-up activity, ranging from the impact of exhaust emissions and exhaust gases (which can pollute the air and water) to noise and intense physical effects (light, heat and all other types). It is indicated that many of them can be mitigated and appropriate preventive action on the part of SpaceX is suggested in this dimension.
The report formulates proposals for measures to minimize the impact of the above factors – for example: SpaceX would be required to introduce mechanisms and systems to remove spills / emissions of hazardous substances, and if this happened – then to remove them quickly.
As it is emphasized, not only caring for inanimate nature is of interest to the US federal office – this also applies to animals, both aquatic and terrestrial, and humans themselves. According to officials, the losses may have a real and negative impact on the local fauna, threatening some of the species that are under protection. Therefore, the FAA also uses the opinions of the agency United States Fish and Wildlife Serviceif and to what extent the ecosystem and biosphere may be violated.
When it comes to threats to people (especially children), the report did not explicitly state them, for example, emphasizing that the nearest educational institution is located (in terms of) about ten kilometers from Boca Chica, and there are no people who have fewer people living in this area. than eighteen.
In connection with the launch of the environmental evaluation process, Elon Musk called on everyone in his private social media account to participate in the evaluation. He conditioned it with lofty words saying that the future of mankind awaits on the moon and on Mars:
Please add your voice to the public comments. Support is greatly appreciated!
Humanity’s future on the moon, Mars & beyond depends upon it.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 17, 2021
After the end of the public consultation period, the FAA will eventually include all of them in the final version of the environmental assessment. The FAA will then formulate a conclusion including a rationale for recognizing the specific environmental impact of the use of the launch system and the entire boot infrastructure. The publication of this conclusion is an indispensable step leading to the completion of the process of allowing the SpaceX carrier system to conduct orbital launches.