After months of delays, the FAA has finally released the Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment for SpaceX to launch its Starship Super Heavy rocket from Boca Chica, Texas. While this is not a formal launch license, SpaceX is one step closer to the first launch of the full rocket.
FAA to allow one or more flights of Starship
In the report released on June 13, the FAA will allow “one or more experimental permits” to launch Starship stacked on top of its Super Heavy booster. This will allow SpaceX to finally conduct the first orbital launch attempt of its new rocket. We’ve seen flights of just the Starship upper stage but no flights of Super Heavy.
When this rocket is launched, it will become the most powerful rocket to fly. Now, if that flight is successful is another question. SpaceX has been hoping to launch Starship orbital since last year, with Elon Musk hoping to launch by July of 2021.
The current plan for SpaceX’s first orbital Starship will be to launch Starship with Super Heavy from Boca Chica and have it fly just shy of one orbit. Super Heavy will have a soft splashdown just off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico, and Starship will reenter for splashdown off the coast of Hawaii.
Of course, this relies on Starship being ready to fly now that it has semi-approval for its first missions.
FAA’s decision comes with needed changes
This is a long and detailed document so expect a more in-depth report on what SpaceX will need to change to fly Starship from Boca Chica later. However, this is not a full “green light” for SpaceX to start launching Starship missions whenever they want. The FAA PEA states several changes that will need to be made if SpaceX to mitigate Starship’s effect on the local environment.
There’s no clue at this point how long these changes will take and if all of them need to be made before the FAA grants SpaceX the experimental launch permits. As the days go on, we will hopefully learn more from both SpaceX and the FAA on the road forward to get Starship orbital.