Following months of delays regarding the first orbital launch of its next-generation Starship rocket, SpaceX is hoping for good news from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week.
The spaceflight company is expecting the FAA to finally complete its long-running environmental review — known as the Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) — that will determine whether the first orbital test flight of the Starship can take place from SpaceX’s Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
The PEA examines whether a proposed launch endangers public safety in any way, while also looking into any issues linked to national security and any potential environmental impact, among other factors.
The administration’s assessment procedure involved inviting members of the public to submit their views regarding SpaceX’s launch request, and the huge response is part of the reason for the delays.
The FAA has already pushed the review’s completion date several times, stating on each occasion that it simply needed more time to wrap things up. The most recent delay came at the end of April when it set a new completion date of May 31.
“The FAA is finalizing the review of the Final PEA, including responding to comments and ensuring consistency with SpaceX’s licensing application,” the agency said last month when it said it couldn’t meet the April 29 deadline. “The FAA is also completing consultation and confirming mitigations for the proposed SpaceX operations. All consultations must be complete before the FAA can issue the Final PEA.”
If the FAA gives the green light for the launch from Boca Chica, the Starship vehicle, which comprises the Starship upper stage and Super Heavy first stage, could embark on its first orbital test flight in the next month or two.
However, if the FAA rejects SpaceX’s request to launch from the site, the Starship will likely be launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That would mean transporting the vehicle a distance of around 1,000 miles, adding a further delay to the launch.
The Starship will be the most powerful rocket ever launched when it eventually gets off the ground. NASA is planning to deploy the system for astronaut missions to the moon, Mars, and possibly beyond.
Ahead of the FAA’s imminent decision, SpaceX rolled out the latest prototype of the Starship upper stage to the Starbase launchpad on Saturday.
Starship 24 rolls out to the pad at Starbase pic.twitter.com/PGh6FY6x8w
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 27, 2022
Be sure to check back for all the news regarding the FAA’s decision, which is expected to drop on Tuesday, May 31. Unless there’s another delay, that is.