SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy launch delayed until at least March 2022

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that the Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment has been delayed until February 28, 2022. This places the orbital launch attempt in March 2022 at the earliest.

SpaceX and the FAA have been working towards finalizing the Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for launching Starship and Super Heavy out of Boca Chica, Texas, since the closure of the public comment period. Over 18,000 comments were received, and SpaceX is drafting responses to these comments. While SpaceX is working on these comments, the FAA is consulting and coordinating with local and national agencies. Both of these lead to the delay in the final PEA.

SpaceX continues work down in South Texas while this is all ongoing. They recently conducted a couple of cryogenic tests of Super Heavy booster 4, and Starship 20 could conduct a static fire as soon as today. In between these tests, work continues to prepare the launch site for orbital operations. In addition, there were reports of issues with the tank farm at the orbital launch site, and it is understood that SpaceX is working on corrections to these issues.

Starship/Super Heavy Environmental Assessment and Permitting Timeline (Screenshot valid as of December 28, 2021)

While this delay is disappointing, SpaceX is not prepared for its orbital launch attempt. The launch mount is still receiving attention while work continues on the launch tower and catch arms. Booster 4 still needs to have its own static fire tests too. However, the Final PEA is only part of the story. SpaceX will still need a launch license or an experimental launch permit to conduct the orbital launch.

The environmental review is just one part of the FAA commercial space licensing process.  SpaceX’s license application must also meet FAA safety, risk and financial responsibility requirements.

Steve Klum, FAA Public Affairs Specialist

While the Final PEA may be completed at the end of February, the launch license review process could take another month. So realistically, we’re looking at April 2022 for SpaceX to get the go-ahead for an orbital launch.

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