The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned SpaceX it has not completed an environmental review of a new tower currently under construction at its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, indicating the tower might have to be demolished.
The proposed new "integration tower" (outlined in a May scoping summary here) is intended to be an assembly facility where Elon Musk's firm's Falcon Super Heavy booster rockets would be mated to Starship second-stage vehicles.
It appears SpaceX began construction on the first of the two planned 480ft (146m) towers under the presumption that it would not require any input from the FAA. However, the billionaire-baiting flight-safety regulator seems to think otherwise.
In a May 6 letter from the FAA to SpaceX reported by Reuters, the agency suggested the unapproved building works "may complicate the ongoing environmental review process for the Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program."
An FAA spokesperson added that without having had the tower approved, "the company is building the tower at its own risk," and the ongoing environmental review – which began last year after SpaceX announced an intent to launch its next generation of rockets from the Boca Chica site – could recommend that the tower should be knocked down.
"It is possible that changes would have to be made at the launch site, including to the integration towers to mitigate significant impacts," the FAA reportedly added in its May 6 letter, while metaphorically raising an eyebrow and leaning on a large sledgehammer.
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The FAA appears somewhat peeved at SpaceX's disregard for its input and seemed surprised that construction on the tower had even commenced, stating in the May 6 letter that it had only learned SpaceX had started building it "based on publicly available video footage."
The agency went on to question SpaceX's suggestion that the building of a 480ft integration tower on an FAA-certified launch site was none of their business. SpaceX reportedly told the regulator that the new tower would be for "production, research, and development purposes and not for FAA-licensed or -permitted launches," but the FAA states that descriptions of the tower's function in submitted documents "indicates otherwise."
Billionaire Hugo Drax stan Musk has butted heads with the FAA before over its regulation efforts, most recently when he complained after a June 29 SpaceX launch had to be postponed for a day, after an aircraft strayed into the FAA-mandated exclusion zone around the launch site.
"There is simply no way that humanity can become a spacefaring civilization without major regulatory reform. The current regulatory system is broken," he whined in a tweet after the initial launch was cancelled.
Unfortunately, launch is called off for today, as an aircraft entered the “keep out zone”, which is unreasonably gigantic.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 29, 2021
There is simply no way that humanity can become a spacefaring civilization without major regulatory reform. The current regulatory system is broken.
It is also not the only trouble the company has faced at the Boca Chica site.
The expansion of activities from the original 12 launches a year predicted in 2014 to cover the development of the Starship project have led to SpaceX attempting to buy out local residents to secure its future, using tactics that some residents have described as "just big money bullying little people." ®