Capitalism in space: The FAA today announced by email that it is now taking public comments on the “Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA)” it requires from SpaceX before it can issue a launch license at Boca Chica, Texas for Starship/Superheavy orbital launches.
From the email:
The FAA invites interested agencies, organizations, Native American tribes, and members of the public to submit comments on all aspects of the Draft PEA. Public comments are due on Monday, October 18, 2021. Comments or questions on the Draft PEA can be addressed to Ms. Stacey Zee, SpaceX PEA, c/o ICF, 9300 Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA 22031. Comments may also be submitted by email to SpaceXBocaChica@icf.com. Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, be advised that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold from public review your personal identifying information, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.
The FAA will also hold two public hearings on October 6th and 7th, though it provided no information yet on where those hearings will be held.
This announcement means that the Starship/Superheavy orbital test flight cannot occur any earlier than October 18, 2021, and will actually occur at least several weeks or months later, based on the schedule outlined on slide 32 of this FAA presentation [pdf]. Once the 30-day public comment period ends the FAA must then hold “an industry workshop” reviewing the comments and then issue an update of the PEA, or a rejection of it.
Though the chances of the FAA rejecting SpaceX’s permit are practically nil, I fully expect this process to be slow-walked by the FAA under orders of the Biden administration in order to do whatever it can to prevent this orbital flight occurring before SLS’s first launch, now expected in early ’22.
I hope I am wrong, and that the FAA surprises me. We can only wait and see.
Update: If you think I am crazy thinking that the politics of the Biden administration will cause a slowdown in the FAA’s process, just read this story about the FAA suddenly imposing flight restrictions at the southern border to block drone flights by media outlets that show the illegal immigrant crisis there.
“We’ve learned that the FAA just implemented a two week TFR (Temporary Flight Restrictions) over the international bridge in Del Rio, TX, meaning we can no longer fly our FOX drone over it to show images of the thousands of migrants,” Fox News reporter Bill Melugin tweeted. “FAA says ‘special security reason.’”
Fox’s report resulted in a quick lifting of this flight restriction on their drone, but the action by the Biden administration shows that it is quite willing to interfere with normal aviation regulations for its own political reasons.
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