FAA is done with Starship's safety review, now it's over to the birds and turtles

No launch license until environmental investigation is complete

SpaceX has inched a little closer to being granted a license for the next Starship launch after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it had completed the safety review of the company's Starship-Super Heavy license evaluation.

This part of the process looks at issues around public health and safety as well as property safety. The FAA closely inspected SpaceX's safety organization and the risk criteria for launch, re-entry, and disposal of the vehicle.

SpaceX's first attempt at launching the Starship-Super Heavy combo earlier this year could charitably be described as eventful. The rocket significantly damaged its launch pad and sent debris flying over a wide area. It then veered out of control before eventually exploding.

A halt was called to further launches. Despite protestations from SpaceX boss Elon Musk that the next monster rocket was stacked and ready to go from the company's South Texas Starbase, the FAA has not granted the company permission to proceed.

The investigation into the mishap was closed in September and identified 63 corrective actions for SpaceX. Completing the safety review is another step along the process, but the environmental review still requires work. The FAA and US Fish and Wildlife Service are working on an updated Biological Assessment under the Endangered Species Act, and the consultation must be completed before the environmental review portion of the license evaluation is done.

The FAA did not give an estimate for when this would be complete.

The clock is ticking for SpaceX. It has yet to get Starship into orbit but is expected to provide a lunar landing version of the spacecraft for NASA's Artemis III mission, currently scheduled for the end of 2025. The Human Landing System (HLS) version of Starship is an ambitious project in its own right, requiring in-orbit propellant transfer – itself needing a fuel depot in orbit, filled by a tanker variant of a SpaceX vehicle.

With two years to go, that 2025 goal is looking increasingly unlikely, even without the wait for a license for the next test launch. ®

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