Tuesday, May 31, 2022

And... FAA Approval for SpaceX Slips Another Two Weeks

The FAA  was scheduled to complete the Environmental Assessment for SpaceX today, 5/31, but like all of the other deadlines missed so far, was unable to do their job by the date that they said they'd have it done.  I don't about you but the date itself doesn't bother me half as much as the fact that they can't estimate how long the task will take, create a schedule, and stick to it. 

Unlike all the other deadlines so far, this one wasn't put off by a whole number of months; not two or even one month.  The deadline has been moved out only two weeks.  Maybe they're making progress?

June 13 is two weeks from yesterday, when the FAA was almost certainly closed for the holiday.  Teslarati's Eric Ralph is taking the view that this might be a positive sign.  

Even though there were attempts to spin the new information into something negative, a document acquired through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) by Bloomberg revealed that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had decided to approve its portion of the Starbase environmental review. Their only condition: that SpaceX implement a few small mitigation measures, “including contracting with a qualified biologist to conduct monitoring of vegetation and birds, operating an employee shuttle between the launch facility site and nearby town of Brownsville, reducing vehicle traffic, and adjusting lights to minimize the impact on sea turtles.” Bloomberg chose not to publish the documents it received through the FOIA process.

Any Floridian who lives near a beach knows the sea turtles dominate life during the nesting and especially hatching season.  Lights must be turned off to keep from distracting the hatchlings.  Hatching apparently happens when the full moon (or nearly full) is rising over the ocean and turtles are born programmed to move toward that light.  I've seen dead sea turtles across the street from the beach, apparently somehow catching some light from somewhere and going west instead of east toward the moon and into the ocean.  Luckily, Texas doesn't seem to have a resident manatee population; they're the other native animal that dominates every activity in Florida's brackish water.  Texas has a summer manatee population that migrates from Florida and the east (not counting "governor" Stacy Abrams from Georgia) but they aren't documented as far south as the Boca Chica area.

There are some other interesting sides in the Teslarati story.  Did you know that SpaceX had included plans for a natural gas production and liquefaction plant, along with a natural gas power plant at or near Starbase Boca Chica?  Those were removed from the data package for the PEA, which seems likely to have helped speed the process.  Still the bottom line is this excerpt from the FAA statement.

“The FAA now plans to release the Final PEA on June 13, 2022 to account for ongoing interagency consultations concerning Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. All other consultations and analysis have been completed at this time.” 

It's actually sounding like they might get approval to do "a few" launches from Boca Chica.  In the long term, it looks like the anti-launch forces will probably force the bulk of Starship activity to launches from offshore platforms, as has been talked about, or from the Kennedy Space Center, where progress is grinding along. 

Starship 24 isn't going anywhere for a while, since the first cryo testing apparently broke something and she lost some tiles, but an approval in two weeks could open the door to some impressive testing through the rest of June and well into July.  Something will try for orbit and Musk proved back in the Starship test days that he'll do a test launch if it gets to about a 50/50 chance it'll work.


  1. I heard Stacy was catching some sun on the coast, but had to stop when groups of Boy Scouts thought she was beached and tried to push her back in . . .

  2. I'm waiting to see how they load Starlink V2 satellites into the Starship. I'm guessing through the slot that will "dispense" them when in orbit..

    Maybe that's wha the big white-painted mystery box is all about, because I see a slot in it (vertical for now, but eventually horizontal??) that might just fit for Starlink satellites?? End-wise, not lengthwise...

    1. The most consistent rumor I hear is "Pez dispenser". End-wise, horizontal, one gets pushed out, and the next gets loaded into place.

      But that's just a rumor.

  3. Just love government efficiency.

    You, the people, have to get all your stuff together and on time and completed completely (even the contradictory sections) or you, the people, are in violation of the law and have the possibility of all your assets being seized and you, the people, being thrown in prison.

    They, the government, can set a deadline and... slide it. They, the government, can not tell you, the people, what they are looking for in their inquiry and will add or change the requirements constantly so no matter what you, the people, are doing, it's wrong. They, the government, will determine if they, the government, are doing anything wrong or not and they, the governmentl, will punish them, the government, as they, the government, see fit.

    Ballsy of them. How many years will they continue to slide and slide and slide?

    And the truly sucky thing is, there is no way to say, "Whoa, we've done what you want, all the forms are in, the time you set is past, so finish it." Because if you, the people, force their, the government's, hands, they, the government, will screw you over just because.

    Sick of it. Sick of the missed deadlines and changing (seemingly weekly) requirements and all the magic hoops and hurdles and invisible barriers and traps and travails that they, the government, put in place because they, the government, have to justify their overreach, their budgets, their personnel.

    Time, past time to do an "Office Space" on Big Government. God knows we, the people, could save a bundle in buildings, payrolls, utilities, etc.

    1. Please understand that the PEA is to appease the Greenies (Watermelons) and this Administration is not likely to have any interest in garnering THEIR ire.

    2. Very well stated. Much enjoyed and appreciated. Wish you were a neighbor.

  4. wife is not impressed with coffee spew resulting from Georgia manatee line... hehe

  5. Reminds me of the "public" uproar over launching Spaceship Luna in Destination Moon

  6. As I've mentioned before, I'm surprised they aren't doing a full EIS. One reason COULD be because an EIS has set in stone timelines as well as substantial public comment requirements.
    The FAA should really have had another agency take the lead since they don't do enough of these to be proficient or have a litigation resistant process in place.
    Environmental groups will sue ANY complete EIS the government puts out and many EAs. I assume there will be litigation over this too.
    I'm also not surprised there will be limited launches there; there isn't really enough land available to meet safety requirements. This is supported by their need to close public roads for tests that are well short of the magnitude of a launch.

    1. I don't know enough about the laws for when it needs a full EIS and when a PEA is acceptable, but why the FAA is doing any kind of environmental impact work instead of the EPA is bizarre to me. My guess is that it has something to do with launching into space? If some little town wants to build a plain old airport, does the FAA have to do an assessment?

      OTOH, they've said going through the tens of thousands of comments from environmentalists is one of the holdups, so we know that it's not going to be over when the first one is approved.

    2. The P is for preliminary... This isn't going to be over soon.
      Typically, the lead agency for NEPA actions is the federal agency who wants it done or is the regulator for it
      One of my current projects involves NASA and the desert. They're moving fast on their EA.

      I assume an EA is required here because of the need for new restricted airspace.