NASA Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for SpaceX Starship & Super Heavy at KSC

Super Heavy Starship (Credit: SpaceX)

Draft Environmental Assessment
for the SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy
Launch Vehicle at Kennedy Space Center (KSC)

Full Report

August 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) has prepared this Environmental Assessment (EA), with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as Lead Agency, to evaluate the potential environmental impacts resulting from construction and operations associated with the proposed SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). This EA analyzes effects on resources due to the Proposed Action and the No Action Alternative. Federal agencies are required to consider environmental consequences resulting from their actions.

This is in accordance with regulatory mandates including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended (Title 42 of the United States Code [U.S.C.] 4321-4347), the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations for implementing NEPA (40 Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] parts 1500-1508), NASA regulations for implementing NEPA (14 CFR Subpart 1216.3), and the NASA Procedural Requirement (NPR) for implementing NEPA and Executive Order (EO) 12114 (NPR 8580.1). Because SpaceX plans to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation for launch and reentry licenses for Starship/Super Heavy, this EA considers the FAA’s NEPA-implementing policy-FAA Order 1050.1F, Environmental Impacts: Policies and Procedures, regarding potential launch-related and reentry-related impacts.

SpaceX has successfully demonstrated their ability to service the launch industry with the Falcon family of launch vehicles now developing a multi-mission, fully reusable, super heavy-lift launch vehicle. The
Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle would reduce the cost of access to space, exceeding the capabilities of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, enabling cost-effective delivery of cargo and people the Moon and Mars.

Purpose and Need

NASA’s purpose and need for the Proposed Action is to develop and implement formal agreements with SpaceX for use of NASA assets and to provide services and commodities to enable Starship/Super Heavy launches.

Commercial use of KSC real property supports NASA’s mandate to encourage the fullest commercial use of space, supports the goals of the National Aeronautics and Space Act, and advances the National Space Policy that federal agencies shall ensure that U.S. Government space technology and infrastructure is made available for commercial use on a reimbursable, noninterference, and equitable basis.

The need for the Proposed Action also aligns with NASA’s Space Act Agreement and the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s mission, which is to support the U.S. goal of encouraging activities by the private sector to strengthen and expand U.S. space transportation infrastructure.

Additionally, the Proposed Action will support NASA in its continued mission to expand commercial uses of space and the space industry by facilitating SpaceX efforts to strengthen United States (U.S.) space transportation and launch infrastructure. It would also provide greater mission capability to NASA and SpaceX by continuing the development of ever evolving next generation launch vehicles and spacecraft. Additionally, the Proposed Action may support NASA in meeting the U.S. goal of near-term lunar exploration.

Proposed Action

Figure 2-2. Proposed LC-39A Configuration with Starship/Super Heavy Launch Pad and Associated Operational Structures Shared or Separate from Falcon.

Pursuant to the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA), SpaceX currently operates its Falcon family of launch vehicles on KSC at Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A). SpaceX proposes to expand operations to include launch of Starship/Super Heavy vehicle from this complex. The fully reusable rocket system is being developed by SpaceX to take humans and cargo to Earth orbit and beyond, including to the Moon and Mars.

The launch vehicle is comprised of two stages; the Super Heavy booster is the first stage, and the Starship is the second stage. The booster would be powered by 31 Raptor engines and Starship spacecraft would be powered by seven Raptor engines. The propellant is composed of liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid methane (LCH4).

SpaceX intends to eventually launch the Starship/Super Heavy approximately 24 times per year. The Starship/Super Heavy would include Lunar and Mars missions, satellite payload missions, and human spaceflight.

SpaceX would construct an additional launch mount for Starship/Super Heavy at LC-39A, adjacent to the existing mount used for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. A LCH4 farm would be built near the existing Falcon Rocket Propellant-1 (RP-1) farm similar in structure to the existing LOX farm.

Site improvements would also include an interior transport road leading from the pad entrance gate up to the launch mount as well as several new high pressure gaseous commodity lines. A deluge water system and water cooled flame diverter would be installed and comprised of new water tanks capable of delivering the necessary water pressure.

The Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) facility, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), would be used as a landing location for Starship, similar to its current use for Falcon booster landings. The Starship spacecraft is the second stage of the vehicle. Super Heavy is the first stage booster and would be landed downrange on a droneship (converted barge), similar to the downrange landings of Falcon boosters.

Figure 2-3. Proposed Starship Reentry and Landing

SpaceX’s proposed action includes the construction of a landing pad for Starship land landings within the LC-39A boundary. The potential for land landings of Starship at LC-39A will require additional analysis to fully assess the potential impacts to NASA programs, facilities, personnel and operations.

Alternatives Considered but Removed from Further Analysis

Alternative locations for the operation, launch, and landing of the Starship/Super Heavy considered included, SLC-40 within CCAFS and Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4) within Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), where SpaceX also operates the Falcon. SpaceX would need to undertake significant modifications to either site to support the Proposed Action. Further, SLC-4’s location does not support launch trajectories that will compromise the vast majority of Starship/Super Heavy.

LC-39A was ultimately chosen for the Proposed Action since it presented the least environmental impact. LC-39A provides the best combination of available real estate, existing developments, distance from population centers, and available clear launch azimuths to maximize public safety for operational launches.

LC-39A also provides enough space to accommodate both the Falcon and Starship/Super Heavy. SLC-40 was also considered for landing operations but the infrastructure and size do not support landing a space vehicle.

SLC-4 was considered as a landing location; however the distance needed to transport the vehicle from SLC-4 back to the LC-39A launch site would not support the operations of the Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle.

LZ-1 is the preferred landing location because of the existing infrastructure needed for safing a landed vehicle and the minimal distance needed to transport from landing to re-launching. For those reasons, SLC-40 and SLC-4 were not considered as alternatives for this EA, therefore they were not further analyzed.

SpaceX is a Starship prototype “hopper” at SpaceX’s site in Cameron County, TX. In the future, SpaceX may develop and launch the Starship/Super Heavy from its facility in Cameron County, TX. This action would analyzed in a separate NEPA document.

No Action Alternative

Under the No Action Alternative, NASA would not allow SpaceX to implement Starship/Super Heavy at LC-39A. There would be no construction of the new launch pad or construction of the additional
infrastructure and commodities. The NASA mission to assist the National Space Transportation Policy of 1994 stated goal of “assuring reliable and affordable access to space through U.S. space transportation capabilities” would be limited.

Summary of Potential Environmental Effects

This EA considered the following 15 resource areas to provide a context for understanding the potential environmental effects of the Proposed Action and alternatives: land use/visual resources, noise, biological resources, cultural resources, air quality, climate, hazardous materials/hazardous waste (includes solid waste and pollution prevention), water resources, geology and soils, transportation, utilities, health and safety, socioeconomics, environmental justice and children’s health and safety, and Department of Transportation Act, Section 4(f) properties.

The environmental consequences associated with the Proposed Action and the No Action Alternative were analyzed for the appropriate Region of Influence (ROI) for each resource area. Table E-1 presents a summary of the resources considered and the potential impacts on those resources. The descriptions include both construction and operation related tasks associated with Starship/Super Heavy.