by Douglas Messier
The FAA issued a mitigated Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) decision on Monday that will SpaceX to launch its massive Starship/Super Heavy booster combination from its Starbase facility at Boca Chica, Texas. In order to launch, however, SpaceX must take a series of more than 75 actions to mitigate the impact on a sensitive wildlife areas that adjoin the launch base and the endangered and threatened species that live there.
FAA’s decision is a major step forward for SpaceX’s plans for a maiden flight of the booster combination from the Gulf Coast facility located just north of the Mexican border. It might also lead to litigation by a coalition of the environmental groups who believe the launch base is incompatible with the surrounding area.
FAA still needs to issue a launch license to SpaceX. The company plans to conduct a suborbital flight of the boosters that would see Starship crash into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii.
FAA’s decision is also good news for NASA. The space agency awarded a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX to develop the Human Landing System (HLS) that will return U.S. astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time in more than half a century. The company is adapting Starship to be the lander; Super Heavy would launch it into space.
Starship/Super Heavy is the foundation of Elon Musk’s plan to colonize Mars. It is designed to launch 100 to 150 metric tons into Earth orbit.