WASHINGTON — SpaceX is one step closer to getting an updated license for its next Starship launch but must still wait for the completion of an environmental review.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Oct. 31 that the agency had completed the safety review portion of the Starship/Super Heavy license evaluation that day. The safety review covers the portions of launch operations that affect public safety.
The updated license is required for the next integrated Starship launch. The FAA, when it closed on Sept. 8 the mishap investigation into the first Starship/Super Heavy launch in April, identified 63 corrective actions for SpaceX, of which 27 were related to public safety.
“One thing that we’ll need to see before the next operation is evidence that shows that the company has closed out the corrective actions that are specifically tied to public safety,” Kelvin Coleman, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said in a Sept. 18 interview. He predicted then that the safety review would be completed by the end of October.
The completion of the safety review, though, does not mean the FAA is ready to update the Starship launch license and allow another launch to proceed. The FAA is continuing to work on an environmental review, including consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding any environmental effects of a new water deluge system installed on the Starship launch pad at Boca Chica, Texas.
FWS, in an Oct. 26 statement, said it had formally reinitiated an Endangered Species Act consultation with the FAA about modifications to the pad on Oct. 19. “We have up to 135 days to issue an amended biological opinion but do not expect to take the full amount of time,” FWS stated, but did not offer a more precise estimate of the time needed to complete the review.
The licensing process, both with the FAA and the environmental consultation with FWS, has been a source of frustration for SpaceX. “Starship has been ready for its next flight test for more than a month, but we are waiting for an FAA license and accompanying interagency review,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, SpaceX vice president for build and flight reliability, at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee Oct. 18.
He called for a faster review of license proposals, particularly for “projects of national interest,” a reference to Starship’s role as a lunar lander for NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration campaign.
“When it comes to projects of national interest, such as the Artemis program, Congress should establish a regulatory regime consistent with the national program’s objectives and schedules,” he said. Agencies supporting the FAA licensing process, “like those with environmental responsibilities, should also be required to complete their work consistent with the national program schedules.”