SpaceX's Texas launch site undergoing FAA environmental review for Starship flights

SpaceX's SN5 Starship prototype performs a 500-foot-high test flight at SpaceX's facilities near the South Texas village of Boca Chica, on Aug. 4, 2020.
SpaceX's SN5 Starship prototype performs a 500-foot-high test flight at SpaceX's facilities near the South Texas village of Boca Chica, on Aug. 4, 2020. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX's new Texas launch site will undergo an environmental review to prepare for the first flights of the company's new Starship spacecraft. 

The private spaceflight company owns a launch site in South Texas, near the village of Boca Chica, where Starship prototypes are currently being built and tested. The Starship spacecraft is SpaceX's next-gen transportation system designed to take people to and from the moon, Mars and beyond. 

On Nov. 23, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that SpaceX plans to apply for licenses for suborbital and orbital launches of Starship. The FAA will conduct an environmental review of the site before SpaceX can launch its new spacecraft, which is powered by the Super Heavy rocket.

In pictures: SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy vehicles for Mars 

"The proposed update to Starship/Super Heavy operations falls outside of the scope of the existing final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision for the launch site and requires additional environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)," the FAA said in a statement.

The NEPA helps ensure that environmental impacts are assessed during the launch licensing process. In order to receive the appropriate licenses for suborbital and orbital launches, SpaceX must follow environmental and safety regulations. In addition, the company must develop agreements for the license application, according to the statement. 

Technicians attach the nose cone to SpaceX's Starship SN8 prototype in South Texas on Oct. 22, 2020. (Image credit: via Twitter)

Currently, the FAA is in the beginning stages of conducting the environmental review of the launch site and developing a public outreach plan. SpaceX is drafting an environmental assessment (EA), which will determine the impact of launching Starship from the Texas site, as well as appropriate mitigation measures. The EA will also be subject to the FAA's evaluation and approval.

SpaceX has started hiring offshore operations engineers to help develop the floating, superheavy-class spaceports that will be used to launch Starship. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX representatives have said that the first operational Starship missions could launch as early as next year. 

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.