SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
Michael Sheetz | CNBC
The Federal Aviation Administration has delayed its environmental review of SpaceX’s Starship rocket program in Texas for the fourth time, deferring a decision until the end of May.
SpaceX needs a license from the FAA to conduct further Starship flight tests and begin operational launches from its private facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The FAA, which began its environmental review in November 2020, delayed making a decision three times in the last five months, from December 31 to February 28, from March 28 to April 29, and now expects to publish the evaluation. May 31.
“The FAA is working to issue the final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA)… SpaceX made multiple changes to its application that require additional FAA review. The agency continues to review some 18,000 comments from the general public,” the FAA said. regulator in a statement.
Starship is the nearly 400-foot-tall reusable rocket that SpaceX has been developing, with the goal of creating a vehicle that can carry cargo and groups of people beyond Earth. The rocket and its Super Heavy booster are powered by SpaceX’s Raptor series of engines.
SpaceX has completed multiple high-altitude flight tests with Starship prototypes, but its next big step is getting into space. While that milestone was expected to be reached last year, development progress has lagged behind. The orbital flight test is also pending regulatory approval.
In February, the CEO of SpaceX Elon Musk gave a presentation about Starship at the company’s Starbase facility in Texasoutlining the way forward and the obstacles for the rocket test.
At the time, Musk said that SpaceX had a “rough indication that there could be an approval in March.” But alongside the FAA delays, Musk said he hoped SpaceX could launch Starship’s first orbital flight in May, which, after Friday’s FAA update, is now pushed back to June.
One consideration for Musk and SpaceX is what the company would do with its Starship development program if the FAA decides further evaluation is required. In that scenario, which would likely mean a hiatus from launching Starbase for additional years, Musk has said moving Starship operations to Cape Canaveral in Florida would be the most likely alternative. Already, SpaceX has begun building a launch pad for Starship on the grounds of Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.that SpaceX rents from the agency.
“In the worst case, we would be delayed six to eight months to build the Cape launch tower and launch [Starship] from there,” Musk said in February.
The regulator’s ongoing review represents another item on Musk’s diverse plate of projects, with the billionaire this week selling over $8 billion worth from Tesla stock while working to take Twitter private.
Prototypes of SpaceX’s Starship rocket and Super Heavy booster at the company’s Starbase facility in Texas.
Michael Sheetz | CNBC