Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to fight for SpaceX to receive federal approval to launch its Super Heavy/Starship system from the company’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Rio Grande Guardianreports:
Asked by veteran broadcaster Ron Whitlock of Ron Whitlock Reports whether he is concerned about losing SpaceX, Abbott said:
“What I am going to do if Biden interferes with the ability of SpaceX to launch from Boca Chica; I am going to be working every step of the way to make sure that they are going to be able to launch from Boca Chica. We heard the vision from Mr. Patel himself about what they are working on and our job is to make sure they are able to achieve their vision. And I have worked with Elon Musk very closely with regard to Tesla and the Giga factory in Austin, Texas. And we will be working with him very closely, every step of the way in Boca Chica for the future of SpaceX. We want that future and that vision to come from Boca Chica, from Brownsville, Texas.”
Whitlock followed up with: “And not to Florida?” Abbott responded: “Correct.”
Whitlock interviewed Abbott at an economic development event held recently at the Port of Brownsville. Since this event, SpaceX has learned that its application to expand its Boca Chica rocket launching site has hit a new hurdle.
Elon Musk’s recent update on the progress of SpaceX’s Super Heavy/Starship launch system didn’t provide much in the way of technical news. However, the billionaire’s presentation did seem to have had its intended political effect.
Musk was clear that if the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t come through with an approval to conduct launches from its Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX will move operations to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Friday launch of 36 OneWeb broadband satellites aboard a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome is officially canceled as the London-based company refused demands from the Russian government amid growing international tensions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The Board of OneWeb has voted to suspend all launches from Baikonur,” the company said in a one-sentence statement.
In what is likely the first hostage drama involving communication satellites, the head of the Russian space program has demanded that the British government divest its shares in OneWeb and that the broadband satellite operator not provide services to foreign militaries in order to launch a new batch of spacecraft. The move comes amid growing tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions imposed on the country by western nations.
Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that unless these demands are met, Russia will refuse to launch 36 OneWeb satellites that sit atop a Soyuz-2.1b rocket currently on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch is scheduled for Saturday morning Moscow time.
With this major milestone complete, the Structural Test Model for the largest lunar lander since the Apollo Lunar Module is now headed for environmental testing.
PITTSBURGH (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic’s second lunar lander mission, Griffin Mission One (GM1), has completed a major milestone toward flight by completing its Griffin Structural Test Model (STM). This full-scale model will undergo a series of rigorous tests to inform the final flight build of the Griffin lunar lander, scheduled to begin this year.
The problem: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Park Service do not agree that launching the world’s most powerful rocket will have a non-significant impact on federal and state-managed wildlife refuges and national monuments that surround the Boca Chica launch site. Without their sign off, ESG Hound says the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can’t approve the plan using an ongoing environmental assessment that it aims to complete by Jan. 31. A more complicated and lengthy environmental review would be required, resulting in years of delays.
Further, if SpaceX has viable alternatives for Super Heavy/Starship launches in Florida, the company might be required to abandon the Starbase site in Texas. Developing news facilities could result in significant delays to Super Heavy/Starship and the Human Landing System that SpaceX is building for NASA to return astronauts to the lunar surface.
Confused? Let’s review a little bit of history first.
Editor’s Note: Not a bad analysis. He points out the questionable wisdom of launching the largest, most powerful rocket ever built from a base placed in the middle of a wildlife preserve with a number of endangered or threatened species.
However, he’s off in terms of some of his criticism. The FAA approval for 12 Falcon 9/Heavy launches annually included the right to test experimental vehicles at the site. Elon took that provision and drove Boosterzilla through it while abandoning plans for any Falcon 9 or Heavy launches from Boca Chica. Should the FAA has foreseen that? Maybe. Or just eliminated the provision for testing experimental vehicles?
As use of the facility changed, the FAA kept approving upgrades and expansion of the site even as the use completely changed. The agency finally chose an environmental assessment (EA) that SpaceX is writing over a much more rigorous and time consuming environmental impact statement (EIS). An EIS was done for the original approval; conservancy groups have been argument for another one given the significant changes in SpaceX’s plans. The wisdom of FAA’s decision to go with the less rigorous EA will likely end up being debated in court, delaying the project further.
FAA has dual mandate when it comes to commercial space: promote the industry while at the same time regulating it. The investigation into the SpaceShipTwo crash exposed that FAA was under political pressure to keep commercial space programs moving. Not just SpaceShipTwo but across the board. FAA knew the failure analysis for pilot error was deficient, but issued a waiver to allow the flight test program to continue. It was 15 months later that pilot error destroyed the ship.
So, I highly doubt that FAA’s delay had anything to do with accommodating SpaceX’s schedule, which is probably also delayed. An EA takes time to complete. The original Dec. 31 estimate was simply unrealistic. There were 18,000 comments to respond to in writing. FWS has serious concerns about endangered species that need to be addressed.
In an internal email to employees, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that development of the Raptor rocket engine that will power the Super Heavy/Starship launch system is in “crisis,” adding the company risks bankruptcy if the company can’t turn the situation around, according to media reports.
The problems pose a risk not only to SpaceX and its multi-billion dollar Starlink satellite broadband program, but to Musk’s plans to colonize Mars and NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon. The U.S. space agency has awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop a lunar lander based on the Starship vehicle.
SpaceX’s operations at its Boca Chica test site in Texas have severely impacted the adjacent Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and its wildlife due to rocket explosions, wildfires and excessive road and beach closings, according to a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Federation Aviation Administration (FAA).
“Frequent closures of the Refuge caused by SpaceX activities are already substantially impairing both the Refuge’s ability to adequately manage the Refuge and the public’s enjoyment of the Boca Chica Beach area for wildlife-dependent recreation. There are both ‘adverse’ and ‘severe’ impacts to Refuge public use, management, wildlife, and habitat from the SpaceX activities,” the letter said.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) held two public hearings last week on the preliminary environmental assessment on SpaceX’s plans to expand its operation at Boca Chica in Texas. One was held on Monday, and the other two days later.
The commenters have been a very mixed bag, with very few actually focused on the environmental impacts of enlarging the base to launch SpaceX’s massive Super Heavy/Starship vehicle. When FAA approved the Boca Chica site in 2014, SpaceX had been planning to launch a dozen smaller Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets annually from the facility.
Assessment authors accused of submitting false emissions numbers
Report leaves out entire structures and their environmental impacts
FAA accused of illegally fast tracking approval using less rigorous environmental assessment than required by law
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
An environmental engineer has raised serious questions about the completeness and appropriateness of a draft programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) that covers SpaceX’s major expansion of its Starbase rocket launch and test site in Boca Chica, Texas.
According to a 12-part series on the blog ESG Hound, the assessment that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released for public comment last month violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to evaluate all of the impact of the project, which sits amidst environmentally sensitive saltwater wetlands.
Satellite will launch directly to geostationary orbit, meaning broadband internet service will come online months faster for underserved areas of Alaska
SAN FRANCISCO (Astranis PR) — Astranis announced today that its first commercial communications satellite, set to provide service for Alaska from geostationary orbit, will now launch as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on a direct-inject mission set for Spring 2022. The mission profile will allow the spacecraft to arrive at its orbital slot within days of launch and removes the need for a multiple-month orbit raise from a highly-elliptical geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
Futuristic electric thrusters emitting a cool blue glow will guide the Psyche spacecraft through deep space to a metal-rich asteroid.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When it comes time for NASA’s Psyche spacecraft to power itself through deep space, it’ll be more brain than brawn that does the work. Once the stuff of science fiction, the efficient and quiet power of electric propulsion will provide the force that propels the Psyche spacecraft all the way to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The orbiter’s target: a metal-rich asteroid also called Psyche.
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — In 2023, NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will land near the western edge of the Nobile Crater at the Moon’s South Pole to map and explore the region’s surface and subsurface for water and other resources. Part of Artemis, VIPER will launch on a SpaceX Falcon-Heavy rocket for delivery to the Moon by Astrobotic’s Griffin lander under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.