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SpaceX mini update - Feds kick the can down the road another month for Starbase decision
SpaceX Boca Chica Soap Opera tl;dr:
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I'm not a beat reporter, so don't get used to these sorts of mini scoops. If you've been following the strange and wild Environmental Assessment process at SpaceX along with me and are concerned that carte blanche approval would be granted to Musk’s Explosion Rocketeers:
You can let out a temporary sigh of relief.
FAA gave an outrageously fast prediction for a decision on the PEA of the end of the year, as reported by multiple outlets. This is faster than they turn around assessments for minor runway projects at airports with almost no public comments received. That kind of speed for a contentious and rather large project would be fodder for an easy-to-win lawsuit against the FAA for shirking their duties under NEPA. So it was always an unlikely projection.
However, SpaceX has continued to project a rapid first orbital launch date of January or February
Even as recently as last week they were still projecting Orbital tests in the next 2 months.
This is an odd thing to do, given that multiple agencies, including The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) both, have ongoing reviews required under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
SpaceX is at the mercy of science and fact-based review of their documentation, no matter how much they project otherwise.
Speaking of, NOAA was asked to provide concurrence with FAA’s determination that landing of Starship would have no impact on critical fish habitats under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act back in August.
In October, NOAA refused to concur, per a letter reviewed by yours truly and NOAA’s internal compliance tracking system. NOAA’s letter required further assessment which was rolled up into an additional interagency review under the Endangered Species Act.
Here’s a timeline:
August 10- FAA sought out concurrence under The Endangered Species Act (broad agreement that the action would NOT adversely affect protected fisheries or species)
October 28- NOAA says “nah we don’t concur, this action is likely to impact protected habitats, and you need to do an additional consultation to mitigate” (View the letter HERE )
November 4th: FAA re-initiates review to comply with the October 28th determination. This is just for the water/fish habitat impacts, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s ESA review is a separate and much more complex process.
Today, December 22nd: NOAA’s internal database is updated to indicate that review has been pushed back a month:
That puts NOAA’s generic review of Rocket Landing and Launches back to at least the end of January, with the much more complex and contentious USFWS review also pending (this one is habitat and species review of impacts to bird and wildlife populations specific to Boca Chica).
The earliest approval by the FAA (which again, is far from a sure thing) should be projected into February. And the actual launch license process can't be started until then. March is absolutely the earliest even the giddiest optimist could expect for Starship's Maiden Orbital Flight.
ESG Hound’s official stance on a first-quarter launch:
POST SCRIPT: A funny anecdote is that Musk started his bizarre sexist tweets and weeks long attacks on sitting US Senators about 3-4 hours after NOAA’s letter pushing back on a smooth sailing rubber stamping of SpaceX’s Plans. Coincidence? Who knows?
Tweeted 3.5 hours after NOAA’s letter