SpaceX set to literally rock Florida with more and bigger Starship launches

Of course the FAA wants a look at the environmental impact of Musk's plans

SpaceX's Starship is coming to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida – and its plan to use the launch facility means the Federal Aviation Administration will probe the potential environmental impact of Elon Musk's most powerful rockets blasting off the US East Coast.

NASA's Environmental Assessment (EA) for the whole affair was completed in September 2019. The potential environmental impact of constructing and operating the site for Starship Super Heavy vehicles was considered, and a Finding Of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was made.

However, that was for approximately 24 Starship Super Heavy launches per year. According to the FAA, SpaceX's latest proposal would involve constructing the necessary infrastructure to support up to 44 launches per year.

SpaceX's modifications include a catch tower loading the rockets, additional propellant facilities, plans to land the Super Heavy booster on the LC-39A pad, and the launch of an uprated rocket featuring up to nine Raptor engines on Starship and up to 35 on the Super Heavy booster, according to the FAA. The current rocket uses six and 33 Raptor engines, respectively.

LC-39A was constructed for the launch of NASA's Saturn V rocket and was later used for the Space Shuttle program. SpaceX leased the site in 2014 and has used it to launch SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The 2019 assessment gave SpaceX the green light to start building the additional structures – such as a launch tower – needed for a Starship Super Heavy vehicle.

However, a near-doubling in launch cadence will require additional infrastructure and another look at the environmental impact of all that work.

It's a busy time on Florida's space coast. As well as SpaceX's plans to up the cadence of Starship Super Heavy launches – once the rocket makes its Florida debut – rival outfit Blue Origin rolled its heavy-lift vehicle, New Glenn, out to its Launch Complex (LC-36) pad earlier this year for integration and operation tests. Several other commercial operators are also hard at work, and NASA is making progress on its second mobile launcher for future Artemis missions.

As for Starship, SpaceX's next attempt at getting the monster rocket into space without some unplanned destruction is expected soon. On May 8, the engineers performed a static fire of Starship's six Raptor engines.

Starship launches currently take place from SpaceX's Boca Chica, Texas, facility. The FAA's notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding a launch operator license for the Starship Super Heavy from LC-39A indicates that it is unlikely to be long before NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) is not the only monster rocket to be launching from the Florida coast. ®

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