FAA Assessment Clears Way for SpaceX Grasshopper Tests

SpaceX's test site in McGregor, Texas. (Credit: SpaceX)

An FAA environmental assessment has given the OK for SpaceX to test its Grasshopper reusable launch vehicle at its site in McGregor, Texas. The RLV is designed to test technologies needed to fully recover Falcon 9 stages for reuse.

After reviewing and analyzing currently available data and information on existing conditions and the potential impacts of the Proposed Action, the FAA has determined that issuing an experimental permit to SpaceX for operation of the Grasshopper RLV at the McGregor test site would not significantly impact the quality of the human environment. Therefore, preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement is not required, and the FAA is issuing this FONSI. The FAA made this determination in accordance with all applicable environmental laws. The Final EA is incorporated by reference in this FONSI….

PROPOSED ACTION: The Proposed Action is for the FAA/AST to issue an experimental permit to SpaceX, which would authorize SpaceX to conduct suborbital launches and landings of the Grasshopper RLV from the McGregor test site in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX has determined that to support the Grasshopper RLV activities under the experimental permit, it would be necessary to construct a launch pad and additional support infrastructure. Therefore, the Proposed Action analyzed in the Final EA includes the activities that would be authorized by the experimental permit (i.e., the operation of the launch vehicle) as well as the construction of the launch pad and related infrastructure. The experimental permit would be valid for one year and would authorize an unlimited number of launches. The FAA/AST could renew the experimental permit if requested, in writing, by SpaceX at least 60 days before the permit expires. SpaceX anticipates that the Grasshopper RLV program would require up to 3 years to complete. Therefore, the Proposed Action considers one new permit and two potential permit renewals.

Although an experimental permit would authorize an unlimited number of launches, the FAA/AST must estimate the number of launches in order to analyze potential environmental impacts. In conjunction with SpaceX, the FAAIAST developed a conservative set of assumptions regarding the possible number of launches that could be conducted under anyone experimental permit for the Grasshopper RLV at the McGregor test site. The FAA/AST has assumed that SpaceX would conduct up to 70 annual suborbital launches of the Grasshopper RLV under an experimental permit at the McGregor test site. This estimation is a conservative number and considers potential multiple launches per day and potential launch failures.

The full assessment is here.