We’re trying to understand SpaceX’s ever-changing plans for Starship in Florida

in great shape , SpaceX’s Starship tower (left) at Launch Complex 39A dwarfs the launch pad of the Falcon 9 rocket (right).

There are a few ways to read the Federal Aviation Administration’s announcement that it is launching a new environmental review of SpaceX’s plan to launch the world’s most powerful rocket from Florida.

The FAA said on May 10 that it plans to develop an environmental impact statement (EIS) for SpaceX’s proposal to launch Starship from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The FAA ordered this review after SpaceX updated the regulatory agency on its projected Starship launch rate and the design of ground infrastructure needed at Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), the historic launch pad that once housed Apollo and Space Shuttle missions. Was used.

dual environmental review

At the same time, the U.S. Space Force is overseeing a similar EIS for SpaceX’s proposal to take a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, a few miles south of LC-39A. The launch pad, designated Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37), is available for use after United Launch Alliance’s last Delta rocket flies in April.

On the one hand, this Environmental review often takes some time And that could tarnish Elon Musk’s goal of having Starship launch sites in Florida ready for service by the end of 2025. “There won’t be any surprises in a few years,” said George Neald, an aerospace industry consultant and former head of the FAA’s office of the Americas. Commercial space transportation.

Another way to look at recent FAA and Space Force announcements pending environmental reviews is that SpaceX seems to be solidifying its plans to eventually launch Starship from Florida. There has been a lot of change in these schemes in the last five years.

The environmental review will culminate in a decision on whether to approve SpaceX’s proposals for Starship launches on LC-39A and SLC-37. The FAA will then go through a separate licensing process, similar to the framework used to license the first three Starship test launches from South Texas.

NASA has signed a more than $4 billion contract with SpaceX to develop a human-rated version of Starship to land astronauts on the Moon on the first of two Artemis lunar landing flights later this decade. To do this, SpaceX will have to establish a fuel depot in low-Earth orbit to refuel the Starship lunar lander before heading to the Moon. Filling the depot with cryogenic propellant would require a series of Starship tanker flights – perhaps 10 to 15.

To launch that many Starships over the course of a month or two, SpaceX would need to alternate between at least two launch pads. NASA and SpaceX officials say the best way to do this is to launch Starship from one pad in Texas and another in Florida.

Earlier this week, Arce spoke with Lisa Watson-Morgan, who manages NASA’s human-rated lunar lander program. She was at Kennedy Space Center this week for a briefing on the Starship lander and a competing lander from Blue Origin. One of the topics, he said, was the FAA’s new environmental review before Starship launches from LC-39A.

“I would say we’re doing everything we can to get the schedule up to where it needs to be, and we’re working with SpaceX to make sure that their timeline, the EIS timeline and all of the NASA things work in parallel as much as we can to achieve our objectives,” he said. “When you’re writing it down on paper just as it is, it looks like there might be some rough areas in there, but I would say we’re collectively working through it.”

Officially, SpaceX plans to hold a dress rehearsal for the Starship lunar landing in late 2025. This would be a full demonstration, including a refueling mission, landing of the Starship on the lunar surface, then takeoff from the Moon before NASA could commit. The Artemis III mission, to place people on starships, is currently scheduled for September 2026.

So you can see the schedule is already tight for a Starship lunar landing demonstration if SpaceX activates a launch pad in Florida late next year.

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