No more Starbase delay. But SpaceX rushes ahead

SpaceX’s Starbase is located in Boca Chica, Texas — near Brownsville — on the Gulf of Mexico.

5th Delay in Starbase EA

Amid media discussions of Elon Musk’s impending purchase on Twitter, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced another month-long delay in releasing its initial environmental assessment of SpaceX’s expansion plans for its Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas. The announcement – which marks the fifth time the FAA has promised the document has not been delivered – delays SpaceX’s hope of turning Starbase into a full build-and-launch facility for its Starship spacecraft and rocket. Super Heavy. These two elements are essential to what some call a space revolution.

Even if the FAA produces the PEA (Programmatic Environmental Assessment) before May 31, a positive evaluation does not guarantee the final approval of the project. When the PEA is finally presented, under FAA rules, a full environmental impact statement might still be required for the expansion plan.

The announcement of the latest delay came via the official FAA Twitter account last Friday:

Also pending: review of historic properties

Another review remains to be completed. An assessment of how the project might affect historically significant properties on or around the site is also pending for the Starbase expansion. Work cannot continue until this important analysis, known as the Section 106 review, is complete.

Some launches moved away from Starbase

Originally, SpaceX envisioned Starbase as a launch facility for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy transport vehicles. But liftoffs for the Falcon series rockets have since been moved to launch facilities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

However, SpaceX still hopes to use the Boca Chica site for its Starship operations. From the FAA:

SpaceX no longer plans to conduct launches of its Falcon launch vehicles at the Boca Chica launch site and has instead decided to use the launch site to conduct Starship/Super Heavy test operations and orbital launches. SpaceX currently holds a license to test Starship prototypes at the launch site. It involves static firefighter tests and a series of suborbital launches (“jumps”) a few centimeters 18 miles above the ground.

Launch rockets where the beasts roam

The Boca Chica facility, which is at the end of State Highway 4 approximately one mile from the U.S.-Mexico border, includes the Vertical Launch Area (VLA) and a launch and landing control center known as the name of STARGATE. Highway 4 provides the only public access to Boca Chica Beach, and the launch site is adjacent to environmentally sensitive land owned by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department that provides habitat for endangered feral cats.

The FAA describes the surrounding landscape in its guidance documents:

The area is characterized by marsh and barrier island plant communities, shallow open water, algal mudflats, and unvegetated mudflats. The highlands consist of low, newly formed sand dunes with their vegetation anchored amid bare sand plateaus. The open water areas are lined with black mangroves and vegetated with seagrass. Small, ecologically unique clay hills known as ‘lomas’ are home to a diverse group of rare plants and terrestrial wildlife, including the federally endangered ocelot and jaguarundi .

SpaceX plans 60 launches in 2022

Given pre-approval for prototyping at Starbase, SpaceX is moving forward with construction of the so-called Star Factory in Boca Chica, as evidenced by photos captured by Twitter user @StarshipGazer:

Construction of a similar Starship assembly plant is also underway at Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX’s frantic launch schedule

So far in 2022, SpaceX has completed 11 launches that have carried 502 spacecraft, vastly outpacing the second-best effort by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). CASC has been launched eight times, carrying 38 spacecraft aloft. With its 11 launches, SpaceX has lifted 255,516 pounds (115,900 kg) of “spacecraft mass.”

The launch data is part of the latest Bryce Briefing, a quarterly summary of global spaceflight achievements. During the first quarter of 2022, Bryce reports that the Russian space agency Roscosmos handled just four flights carrying just 10 spacecraft.

Eleven launches in three months put SpaceX on track to meet CEO Elon Musk’s goal of five dozen liftoffs by the end of the year – an average of one every six days – which he announced. via its latest corporate acquisition, Twitter:

Also on Friday, a Falcon 9 carried another load of Starlink satellites into orbit from KSC, marking a record 21 days for a reusable booster rocket:

Booster B1062 previously carried the first commercial crew into space, flying the Axiom-1 mission to the ISS on April 8.

May will continue this frenetic pace, with SpaceX planning no less than six launches this month. These begin with Starlink Group 4-17 aboard a Falcon 9 taking off from KSC at 2:47 a.m. ET this Friday (May 6, 2022). Nine non-SpaceX launches are also scheduled for this month, including the orbital flight test of United Launch Alliance’s Starliner on May 19.

Conclusion: On April 29, 2022, the FAA announced another month-long delay — the fifth delay to date — in releasing its initial environmental assessment of SpaceX’s expansion plans for its Starbase base in Boca Chica, Utah. Texas. Meanwhile, SpaceX is maintaining a frantic launch schedule.

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