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Texas State Highway 4 Makes Life Hard for Elon Musk’s Starship. That, and the FAA

If you go online right now and Google SpaceX and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), most of the results you’ll get read something on the lines of “FAA clears SpaceX for Starship launch...,” or “SpaceX wins approval to launch Starship,” or… But the reality is the agency doesn’t say that, exactly.
SpacaX Starship will land on Mars, but only after it leaves Texas 19 photos
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For more than half a year, Elon Musk’s space company has been waiting on the agency’s environmental review, to see if it can go ahead with its planned orbital launches of the mighty Starship. The review was needed out of concern about what launching such a mammoth rocket from Boca Chica, Texas, might do to the local wildlife, environment, and communities.

This week, the FAA has finally stepped forward, but not to say it cleared the launch of the Starship, but to state that “before a decision on whether to grant a launch license can be made,” its findings must also be corroborated with “public safety, national security, and other analyses.”

What exactly those findings are is not entirely clear at this point, but the FAA, together with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will require SpaceX to address no less than 75 issues before getting the environmental green light.

It doesn’t name all of them, sadly, but what we do know is that SpaceX will be required to provide more advanced notice of launches. That, in a bid to “reduce how long State Highway 4 is closed during launch operations” - Highway 4 passes through Boca Chica, Texas State Parks and the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge.

The FAA will also complicate the Starship launch schedule, when such a thing will exist, as it will not allow the closure of the highway on 18 identified holidays and on more than five weekends per year. Even more, the agency will require “real-time notifications when access restrictions begin, end or are canceled.”

On the environmental front, SpaceX will have to provide a qualified biologist to monitor vegetation and wildlife, notify surrounding communities in advance about potential engine noise and sonic booms, remove launch debris from sensitive habitats, and even adjust lighting at the launch complex to minimize impact on wildlife and the nearby beach.

After all those 75 or so issues are addressed, SpaceX will also have to meet FAA safety, risk, and financial responsibility requirements. And then, and only then, will the Starship be cleared for launch.

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