FAA Initiates Review of SpaceX’s Starship Launch Operations at Kennedy Space Center

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on May 13, 2024 10:39
Faa Initiates Review Of Spacex's Starship Launch Operations At Kennedy Space Center

SpaceX presently launches the Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, from its Starbase site in Boca Chica, Texas, but it also plans to take off it from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

To do so, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must first clear its plans through an environmental review, according to an announcement made on Friday.

FAA Launches Environmental Review as SpaceX Expands Starship Operations to Kennedy Space Center

The business is currently building, testing, and launching the 400-foot-tall (122-meter) Starship, which is still in development, at its Starbase in South Texas. However, SpaceX wants to include Florida in the mix as well: the enormous vehicle will be launched from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre (KSC), which already conducts liftoffs for SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

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In 2019, a NASA-led environmental assessment (EA) found that Starship operations at KSC would have minimal impact on the surrounding ecology. However, SpaceX's intentions for the site have evolved since then, necessitating a more thorough evaluation — an environmental impact statement (EIS), the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed on May 10.

“While the 2019 EA prepared by NASA provides an analytical baseline, the environmental impacts of these proposed changes to Starship-Super Heavy LC-39A development and operations will be specifically analyzed in this EIS,” FAA officials issued in a statement last Friday.

Starship is made up of two components, both of which are intended to be fully and quickly reusable: a massive first-stage booster named Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50 m) upper stage referred to as Starship, or simply “Ship.” SpaceX sees the vehicle as potentially groundbreaking, claiming that it may make Mars colony and other grandiose exploration goals cheaply viable.

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A fully loaded Starship has taken off three times thus far. The first took place in April 2023, the second in November 2023, and the third on March 14, this year. Each of these flights took off from Starbase, and the latter two lasted longer and achieved more milestones than their predecessor.

SpaceX's Ambitious Kennedy Expansion Sparks Concerns Over Environmental Impact

Adjustments to SpaceX's Kennedy plan include increasing the number of launches each year from 24 to 44, as well as a slightly more powerful rocket type. SpaceX also intends to land the first-stage booster at Launch Complex 39A rather than at Landing Zone 1.

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With a massive 17 million pounds of thrust at launch — more than double that of the Saturn V rocket that powered the Apollo astronauts to the moon from the same launch facility five decades ago, and nearly twice that of NASA's next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which launched for the very first time in November 2022 — the Starship has a greater likelihood of disrupting the surrounding environment than any other vehicle launched from Florida's Space Coast.

The Starship's inaugural launch completely demolished the Starbase launch pad when the rocket's engines proved too powerful as it took flight. Debris was spread far and wide, including into protected wildlife regions, which alarmed environmentalists. SpaceX replied by constructing a more sturdy pad capable of supporting future missions.

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Residents on the Space Coast are accustomed to watching launches using SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, which generates a paltry 1.7 million pounds of thrust at take off, as well as the rare mission by SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, which is three times more intense. However, starship launches will be very different.

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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