SpaceX Begins Building Starship Launch Complex at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A

The launch complex in Florida will supplement the one being built at SpaceX’s facility at Boca Chica, Texas.

NASA issued a statement about the project.

NASA signed a property agreement with SpaceX in 2014 which allows them to develop Space Launch Complex 39A to serve as a platform for the company’s commercial launch activities.

It’s within the rights of their lease agreement to make launch infrastructure improvements within the boundaries of the pad.

In 2019, NASA conducted an environmental assessment and granted permission for SpaceX to begin construction within the pad perimeter. Approval is only to build at this time. Launchings and landings will involve another approval process.

Video: Peter Beck Gives Update on Rocket Lab’s Neutron Launcher

Video Caption: Meet Neutron. Building on Rocket Lab’s proven experience developing the Electron launch vehicle, the advanced 8-ton payload class Neutron launch vehicle is designed to transform space access by delivering reliable and cost-effective launch services for satellite mega-constellations, deep space missions and human spaceflight.

Editor’s Note: I did a Twitter thread with highlights of the video with images and commentary. I also provide background on why Peter Beck and Rocket Lab went back on their pledge to not build another rocket beyond the Electron small satellite launcher. (Spoiler alert: SpaceX!) I also look at the issues surrounding SpaceX’s #SuperHeavy, #Starship and #Starlink programs.

Elon Musk Calls Starship Raptor Engine Program a “Disaster,” Warns SpaceX Risks Bankruptcy Next Year

Super Heavy/Starship system in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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FAA Aims to Complete Boca Chica Environmental Assessment By Dec. 31

Starship SN8 takes off from Boca Chica, Texas. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

WASHINGTON (FAA Update) — The FAA has three updates related to the SpaceX Starship / Super Heavy environmental review.

First, the transcripts from the Oct. 18 and Oct. 20 public hearings are now posted and available in English and Spanish.

Second, during the public comment period, the FAA received more than 17,000 written comments. The agency also received 121 verbal comments during the two public hearings.

Finally, the project is now posted on the U.S. Department of Transportation Permitting Dashboard. It shows a timetable for major milestones, including a target date of Dec. 31, 2021, to conclude the environmental assessment process.

Artemis: The Good, the Bad and the Well, Yeah

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and top officials provided an update on the Artemis program on Tuesday, delivering the not unexpected news that the space agency will not meet its deadline of landing a man and the first woman of color at the south pole of the moon in 2024. Instead, the landing will be delayed until at least 2025.

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Bezos Ends Challenge to NASA Lunar Lander Award to SpaceX

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos tweeted yesterday that he accepted a court’s dismissal of the company’s challenge to NASA’s decision to award a single lunar lander contract SpaceX. He wished the space agency and rival company full success in landing two astronauts on the moon.

NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop the Human Landing System in April. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected protests from Blue Origin and Dynetics in July. Bezos’ company subsequently appealed in court.

NASA Statement on Court’s Dismissal of Blue Origin Lawsuit on Human Landing System Award

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA was notified Thursday that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims denied Blue Origin’s bid protest, upholding NASA’s selection of SpaceX to develop and demonstrate a modern human lunar lander. NASA will resume work with SpaceX under the Option A contract as soon as possible.

In addition to this contract, NASA continues working with multiple American companies to bolster competition and commercial readiness for crewed transportation to the lunar surface. There will be forthcoming opportunities for companies to partner with NASA in establishing a long-term human presence at the Moon under the agency’s Artemis program, including a call in 2022 to U.S. industry for recurring crewed lunar landing services

Through Artemis missions, NASA will lead the world in landing the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface, conduct extensive operations on and around the Moon, and get ready for human missions to Mars.

FWS Says SpaceX Boca Chica Operations Have Severely Impacted Wildlife Refuge, Criticizes FAA Environmental Assessment as Inadequate

Debris from a Starship MK1 pressure test explosion in November 2019 with arrows showing how the pieces were removed from the marshland. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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FAA Public Hearings on SpaceX Boca Chica Report Focused Little on Environmental Impacts

Credit: FAA

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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SpaceX Fires Raptor Vacuum Engine at Starbase

SpaceX fired the first firing of its Raptor vacuum engine while integrated into a Starship vehicle. The engine is used in the vacuum of space.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk tweeted that Starship No. 20 could be ready for a suborbital flight next month. The vehicle would take off from Boca Chica, Texas and land in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

The flight is dependent upon approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is considering SpaceX’s plan to expand its Texas facility to accommodate launches of Starship and Super Heavy. FAA held two public hearings last week about the plan.

SpaceX is moving ahead with development of the Boca Chica site, which it has dubbed Starbase, despite a lack of approval from the FAA.

FAA to Hold Virtual Hearings Next Week on SpaceX’s Expansion at Boca Chica

Starship SN15 takes off on May 5, 2021. (Credit: SpaceX website)

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — Please join the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a public hearing on the Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas.

The FAA will provide a project overview in English and Spanish. Afterwards, members of the public can provide oral comments. The presentations will be posted on the project website after the public hearings:  https://www.faa.gov/space/stakeholder_engagement/spacex_starship/

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Environment Engineer Says Assessment of SpaceX Boca Chica Expansion is Deceptive, Incomplete and Illegal

Starhopper aborts a hop attempt at Boca Chica. (Credit: SpaceX webcast screen shot)
  • 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.

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FAA Extends Public Comment Period for SpaceX’s Boca Chica Launch Site

SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility. A purple line extends around the developed areas of the site. New facilities are at the bottom. (Credit: SpaceX with Parabolic Arc labels)

FAA Notice of Public Comment Period Extension and New Public Hearing Dates for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has received requests for an extension of the public comment period for the Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas (Draft PEA). In consideration of these requests, the FAA is extending the public comment period for the Draft PEA. The FAA is also setting new public hearing dates which will provide additional time for the public to review the Draft PEA prior to the public hearing.

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Meanwhile, the Next Billionaire to Go to Space Continues Training

The Japanese billionaire and his assistant are heading to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz ship in December. Maezawa has also booked a trip around the moon aboard SpaceX’s Starship vehicle for himself a group of people he’s taking with him.