FAA delays environmental review of SpaceX's Starship yet another month, to May 31

Starship on the launch pad near Boca Chica, Texas in March 2022.
Starship on the launch pad near Boca Chica, Texas in March 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

We'll have to wait at least another month to see the results of the U.S Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) environmental review of SpaceX's Starship program.

The FAA has been working for months on that review — officially known as a programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) — which is assessing the environmental impacts of Starbase, the South Texas site where SpaceX has been building and testing its huge Starship vehicle. 

The agency published a draft PEA in September and estimated that the final version would be wrapped up by the end of the year. But the FAA has repeatedly delayed the final PEA, generally by a month at a time, citing the need to analyze the public comments submitted in response to the draft report and discuss next steps with other government agencies.

Photos: SpaceX lifts huge Super Heavy rocket onto launch stand

Late last month, the FAA told us that it expected to release the final PEA today (April 29) — but that's not going to happen.

"The FAA plans to release the Final PEA on May 31, 2022. The FAA is finalizing the review of the Final PEA, including responding to comments and ensuring consistency with SpaceX's licensing application," FAA officials wrote in an update today.

"The FAA is also completing consultation and confirming mitigations for the proposed SpaceX operations," they added. "All consultations must be complete before the FAA can issue the Final PEA."

Starship consists of a huge first-stage booster called Super Heavy and a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) upper-stage spacecraft known as Starship. SpaceX is developing the system to take people and cargo the moon, Mars and other distant destinations.

The company is gearing up to launch the first-ever Starship orbital test flight, which will lift off from Starbase and send the upper stage on a round-the-world trek that will end with a splashdown off the Hawaiian island of Kauai, if all goes according to plan. 

That flight cannot happen with the final PEA still pending as it is, but it's unclear how much the latest delay will affect SpaceX's Starship plans. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said last month that the company likely wouldn't be ready to launch the orbital flight test until May at the earliest, citing the need to build and integrate the requisite Raptor engines. (Each Starship stack will need 39 Raptors — 33 for Super Heavy and six for the upper-stage spacecraft.)

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.  

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.