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FAA and Air Force initiate new environmental impact statements for Starship/Superheavy launchpads in Florida

We’re here to help you! Really! Late yesterday, in a typical Friday story dump just before the weekend to reduce any notice, the FAA announced it has begun a new environmental impact statement (EIS) of SpaceX’s Starship/Superheavy launchpad infrastructure being built in Florida, working in parallel with a similar environmental impact statement now being conducted by the Air Force.

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.

The FAA claims a new assessment is needed because SpaceX is now planning as many as 44 launches. The Air Force has not said why its new assessment is needed. That EIS, which began in March, covers a launchpad previously used by the Saturn-1B and Delta-4 rockets from 1964 to 2022, another pad use by the Air Force’s Titan rocket from 1965 to 2005, as well as a new pad, dubbed SLC-50.

LC-39A meanwhile has been used for launches since the 1960s. The Saturn-5, the space shuttle, and the Falcon 9 all launched from this pad.

The dishonest absurdity of these impact statements can not be overstated. There is zero reason to do new assessments. All the pads have been in use for decades, with all kinds of rockets, some comparable to Superheavy/Starship. The environment and the wildlife refuge at Cape Canaveral have both thrived.

Moreover, to force completely new impact statements because the design and plans for Superheavy/Starship have changed somewhat (but not fundamentally) is even more stupid. This is a new rocket, being developed day-by-day and launch-by-launch. Will the FAA and the Air Force require new EIS’s every time SpaceX changes anything? It seems so.

This is clearly lawfare against Elon Musk and SpaceX by the White House and the administration state. It doesn’t like Musk, and it is now searching at all times for ways to block or damage him.

I confidently predict that neither statement will be completed by the end of 2025. Based on the timeline of most EIS’s, which when politics are involved are almost always slowed by the legal action of activists, the earliest either will be approved will be mid-2026, though likely later.

What is not clear is whether the FAA and Air Force will stop all work while this red tape is being unwound. If so, then the first operational launches of Superheavy and Starship cannot happen out of Cape Canaveral until well into 2027, which means NASA entire Artemis program will be seriously delayed. My previous prediction that the first manned lunar landing can’t happen before 2030 is becoming increasingly too conservative.

And remember this: If Joe Biden and the Democrats remain in power after November, all bets are off. At that point they are certain to ramp up the lawfare against those they see as political enemies, even if their targets are doing great things for the nation and the American people.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

11 comments

  • David Eastman

    I had previously stated that I expected SpaceX activity at the cape to face just as much bureaucratic/activist/administrative pushback as at Boca Chica, if not more. I am thus not surprised at this at all, and in fact this is probably just the beginning, the kind of stuff that the actual political hacks foisted on us by the Biden administration didn’t even have to initiate, just decline to stop. The permanent anti-everything staff is more than sufficient to blame for these current actions.

    The truly depressing part is that even if Trump wins, and brings in Senate and House sweeps with him, we can’t really clean up these departments, there is way too much protection for the permanent uniparty bureaucracy now in the federal code. A Milei style “chainsaw” would bounce off our federal workforce.

  • Jeff Wright

    I have always hated the Air Force.

    I wrote an article for Space Daily once (“Is the Air Force the Enemy of Space?”) that got taken down pretty quickly.

    The ABMA died with USAF fingerprints on its throat.

  • Andrew R

    This is lawfare indeed. The Kennedy Space Center is surrounded by the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and despite hundreds of launches of large LV’s like the Saturns and Shuttles, there has been no adverse environmental damage to the refuge or any plant or animal species living in it. Even if SpaceX went offshore and launched Starship/Superheavy from a repurposed oil platforms, environmental groups would follow and demand impact statements, etc. Progressives are not progressive, and friends of the Earth are not friends of science, technology, or common sense.

  • Ryan Lawson

    “There is zero reason to do new assessments.”

    The government workers need to justify their jobs. This happens just the same in private industry, but not as severely. Just ask anyone who had to get approval from corporate EHS to install and use new production equipment. I once had one stop me while using a polishing machine, telling me it wasn’t safe to operate without a guard on it. It took me an hour’s worth of my time to prove to EHS management that this guy was mistaking this polisher with a grinder.

  • When will the shooting begin?

  • Jeff Wright

    While the Biden secret document story goes unreported—the FBI would rather spy on you
    https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2024/05/fbi-urges-employees-to-look-for-ways-to-collect-americans-messages/

    Of course, I’m sure Mr. Z is more angry about this:
    https://arstechnica.com/space/2024/05/nasa-wants-a-cheaper-mars-sample-return-boeing-proposes-most-expensive-rocket/

    So a reasonable compromise would be to swap funding from FBI to SLS.

    Unlike either G-Men or LM cores, it won’t crush you along the way to Point Nemo.

  • Didn’t know that the USAF was in charge at the Capt anymore. Thought everything was transferred to Space Force, who needs the lift capability.

    This sets up an interesting dynamic even if Dementia Hitler (or Sh&%ler) is reelected. SpaceX is cozying up to the intel community to lift their stuff, the same intel community that has been running things for a half century. DoD and NASA also need Starship. In opposition, we have Commerce (FAA), Energy and Interior (both greens). I think intel wins. Cheers –

  • Tom Billings

    I have already had to point out to a young hysteric on this subject, that to the Pied Plovers he was worried about, the difference between launching a Falcon 9, and launching a Starship is utterly immaterial, and might be imperceptible. They are all monsters roaring into the sky, and affect these birds not at all, except that they keep the humans away when they are roaring. That was not appreciated as a comment.

  • Milt

    Somewhere, lost in all of the rhetoric about environmental impact statements, is the question of whether this country really intends to go back to the moon. And if it matters. As Robert points out:

    “If [the FAA and Air Force … stop all work while this red tape is being unwound], then the first operational launches of Superheavy and Starship cannot happen out of Cape Canaveral until well into 2027, which means NASA’s entire Artemis program will be seriously delayed. My previous prediction that the first manned lunar landing can’t happen before 2030 is becoming increasingly too conservative.”

    Whatever else this may be, it is NOT representative of a real national manned space program, and even less is it a competition with China for establishing a permanent human presence on the moon. Whatever this is, it is much more like the United State’s recent naval campaign against the Houthi insurgents in Yemen in which our forces expended hundreds of millions of dollars worth of scarce munitions, failed to keep the sea lanes open and did no real damage to the enemy, declared victory, and then sailed home.

    Is returning to the moon another “war” that cannot be won?

    PS — Should there be anything like normal presidential debates this time, it would be fascinating to hear some discussion about whether or not the Artemis program is “working” and if our desultory efforts at returning to the moon are actually real.

  • Jeff Wright

    Space doesn’t need any more undermining.

    It probably is too late to reduce the regulatory state–so I say add to it. All environmental laws and regulations must first be evaluated for negative economic impacts.

    EPA and FAA can do nothing without the approval of the latest foot-dragging alphabet.

    Then put on the door “gone fishing.”

  • Max

    There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.

    Ayn Rand
    Atlas Shrugged (1957)

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