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FAA gives OK to SpaceX for second Starship launch

SpaceX handout
SpaceX is aiming at launching on Saturday, with the two hour launch window starting at 7 a.m.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved SpaceX’s next Starship launch, just hours after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) concluded its assessment of the rocket’s launch infrastructure.

The FAA gave the company a launch license Wednesday afternoon, saying Starship and its new launch infrastructure would have “no significant environmental changes” for its second launch.

SpaceX is aiming at launching on Saturday, with the two hour launch window starting at 7 a.m.

Initially, Starship was set to launch on Friday. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that a "grid fin actuator" needed to be replaced. The launch was then moved to Saturday.

SpaceX’s social media channels had eyed Friday as a potential launch date since last week. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said Monday that the company was going to receive regulatory approval for a Friday launch.

FWS stated that SpaceX’s water deluge system, meant to suppress the flames and sound from the rocket’s 33 engines, would produce the same amount of water from an average rainfall. The agency does not expect the water to change the mud flats’ salinity or affect shorebird habitat.

Cameron County had said it would be opening Isla Blanca Park, on South Padre Island, at 5 a.m. on Friday, an hour earlier than usual, in preparation for launch spectators. The county has not provided an update on Saturday's hours as of publication time.

SpaceX’s first launch of Starship, on April 20, ended in an explosion four minutes after liftoff. The company detonated the rocket when it veered off course, taking 40 seconds to explode. The force from Starship’s engines destroyed the launch pad below it, sending concrete and rebar flying for miles in all directions, mostly landing in protected wildlife refuge or state park land. Debris from the launch landed in Port Isabel.

A week later, environmental groups and the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas sued the FAA, alleging that the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not properly analyzing the effects of Starship’s launch. SpaceX would later join the lawsuit as a co-defendant with the FAA.

Jared Margolis, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, says the latest launch license doesn’t address the issues that came from Starship’s first launch.

“There's no analysis anywhere, either from Fish and Wildlife Service or FAA, about what occurred on April 20,” Margolis said. “What about all that material that was ejected into the tidal flats, the critical habitat for listed species that migratory birds rely on? There's no analysis of the impacts of that on the habitat or the recovery efforts.”

Concrete and rebar debris remained on the tidal flats surrounding SpaceX’s launch pad until October when Texas Parks and Wildlife, along with SpaceX and FWS, began recovering the material.

TPWD told TPR in a statement that they waited for the shorebird nesting season to pass before recovering debris. Shorebirds had already started making nests with it however.

Starship is intended to launch and circle the globe before falling into the ocean off the coast of Hawai’i. The rocket is part of SpaceX’s $4 billion contract with NASA to return astronauts to the moon by 2026.

SpaceX says it has made hundreds of changes to Starship since the April launch, on top of the 63 adjustments the FAA forced the company to make.

Copyright 2023 Texas Public Radio

Gaige Davila
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