WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration is preparing to start an environmental review of SpaceX Starship launches from a pad at the Kennedy Space Center, reflecting changes in the vehicle since a 2019 assessment.

In a notice published in the Federal Register May 10, the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation announced it was starting the process for an environmental impact statement (EIS) for Starship launches from KSC’s Launch Complex 39A. That EIS is needed as part of FAA’s work to approve a launch license for Starship from that pad.

That process will start with a series of in-person and virtual scoping meetings for the public, scheduled for June. Those meetings will allow the FAA to discuss their plans for the EIS and accept public comment on the issues they should consider in that environmental review.

The EIS will be the second environmental review involving SpaceX’s plans to use LC-39A for Starship launches. NASA completed an environmental assessment (EA) in 2019 of the company’s plans at the time to build launch infrastructure at LC-39A for Starship, finding it would have no significant impact. At the time SpaceX was planning up to 24 Starship launches from that pad annually.

A new EIS, the FAA concluded, is needed because of changes in the design of Starship and its operations since the 2019 assessment. “SpaceX now proposes to construct additional launch infrastructure not previously contemplated in the 2019 EA,” the FAA stated, including a “catch tower” for Super Heavy booster landings. The Starship/Super Heavy design itself has changed significantly since 2019, and SpaceX has discussed plans to further evolve the design.

SpaceX now contemplates a higher launch rate, with up to 44 launches annually from LC-39A. The Super Heavy booster will also land back at LC-39A, while in the earlier EA SpaceX proposed landing the booster on a droneship or at Landing Zone 1, the former Launch Complex 13 at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station used for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy booster landings today.

SpaceX has already constructed some infrastructure at LC-39A for Starship missions, including a launch tower far taller than the existing one that is used for Falcon launches. That work, the FAA said, is covered by the scope of the 2019 assessment, but the EIS is needed for additional launch infrastructure to support booster landings and other launch needs, like a deluge system.

The new study will run in parallel with an EIS being led by the Department of the Air Force for Starship launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. That study will examine the potential for using Space Launch Complex (SLC) 37, which had hosted launches of the now-retired Delta 4, as well as a new site, SLC-50, that would be built between SLC-37 and the next pad to the north, SLC-40, used by SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The FAA did not include a timetable for completing the EIS for Starship launches from LC-39A. The Space Force study kicked off with scoping meetings in March and included a schedule that projected publishing a final EIS in September 2025 and a record of decision, selecting which site would be used for Starship launches, a month later.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...