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NASA is apparently withdrawing its permit for Starship launches in Florida

We’re here to help you: In requesting public input into SpaceX’s plans to expand operations in Florida to accommodate launches of its Starship/Superheavy rocket, NASA is apparently withdrawing the permit it issued in 2019, allowing for such launches.

While a Final Environmental Assessment for Starship was issued in September 2019, NASA said that communication with SpaceX will be ongoing prior to a future first flight from Florida.

“NASA will review the risks to the area and programs at KSC [Kennedy Space Center] prior to any hazardous work,” Bob Holl told Spectrum News in a statement. “NASA will be involved in the lead-up of activities prior to the first loading and any static fire events of Starship and coordinate impacts across the spaceport.” Holl serves as the chief of the Spaceport Management and Integration Division in the Spaceport Integration and Services Directorate at KSC.

It appears NASA and the federal bureaucracy have decided that a new environmental assessment is necessary for SpaceX’s proposed new operation in Florida. After a 30-day period for public input, ending on July 29th, NASA will issue a new draft environmental assessment by September, which will then be subject to another public comment period. Then, the agency will issue a final decision in November, either declaring the new work causes no further impact or that a new environmental impact statement is required.

If the latter, expect Starship launches at Kennedy to be delayed several years.

This action continues the increased regulatory oversight on new space activities being imposed since the arrival of the Biden administration. The federal government is now apparently trying to set a new policy whereby any new work by a private company on or even near federal land will require its full approval, and even if given that approval will carry with it strict and endless governmental demands, all designed to slow things down.

The political timing of this new action however is significant, since this decision will occur after the November midterms. If control of Congress shifts significantly into Republican hands, as expected, the Biden administration’s new heavy-handed regulatory approach might face some pushback.

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  • If control of Congress shifts significantly into Republican hands, as expected, the Biden administration’s new heavy-handed regulatory approach might face some pushback.

    Uh huh. I might have a bridge to sell you. Even in the unlikely event of “some pushback”, the chance of that pushback accomplishing anything is even more unlikely. Since when do bureaucrats pay any attention to Congress (see FBI and DOJ behavior)?

    Musk seems to have a blindspot when it comes to governments. It took him ages to leave California. He’s now spending vast amounts of money to build a launch complex in Florida that he will never be allowed to use. He may believe the best, but even optimists can only be slapped upside the head so many times before they figure it out.

    My prediction: SpaceX moves to Mexico or launches offshore within 3 years. Only the testing will be done from existing sites. High cadence Starship launches will happen outside the US, hopefully only “at first” until the idiots attempting to rule us realize what they’ve done.

  • Alton

    One Big Problem US Law allows the Feds the last say on SPACE launches from any point on Earth IF you are a United States Citizen.

    Or atleast I have been filled several times.

    From FAA FAQS —-

    FAA’s launch regulations require a license or a permit for all commercial launches taking place within U.S. borders as well as for launches being conducted abroad by U.S. entities. In general, FAA does not license launches by U.S. government organizations. In addition, certain classes of small rockets are exempt from licensing requirements.

  • David Eastman

    markedup2: SpaceX is a US based company, and the US is, by treaty, responsible for it’s safe operation. And of course, rockets, their engines, and their avionics are all subject to ITAR controls. So SpaceX simply cannot “move to Mexico”. And launching from the ocean platforms is not going to get them out from under the hostile thumb of government agencies, they’re still a US based company, and they would need to get permits for the siting, all the tanker traffic to take out fuel, etc etc.

    Simply put, SpaceX and Musk have no escape. They have to play nice with the government, whether it’s hostile to them or not.

  • Patrick Underwood

    I’m pessimistic, given previous behavior, that a Republican congress will be any more favorably disposed toward SpaceX than a Democrat congress. And, as markedup2 implies, the Federal bureaucracy doesn’t care what Congress wants. And, I’ll add, ESPECIALLY what a Republican congress wants.

  • JhonB

    Did they have to do this for the SLS that is going to launch in August (not sure which year)(G)

  • sippin_bourbon

    I do not buy it.

    Jerk him around in Texas. Then jerk him around in Florida. Someone wants Musk to play ball.

    I bet if he suddenly donated the the “correct” campaigns and ESG funds, all his problems would go away.

    If he does not, then expect a new kind of tax of Launch services, jacking up the price of launch for his customers.

  • pzatchok

    I hope Musk and his people record the shakedown.

  • Ray Van Dune

    I suspect that KSC’s statement needs to be evaluated in the context of SpaceX’s demonstrated ability to move faster and farther than traditional Big Aerospace companies, and do so with a much bigger footprint than a small-sat operator that they might be able to manage easily. They are not putting the brakes on (IMHO) as much as asserting that they COULD put the brakes on to a company operating at warp speed in their backyard, if they wanted to.

    I hope I am right.

  • George C

    Gross mass of full stack Starship is not more than 3 times SLS. Over 2x and under 3x. Either can make a lot of noise. Of course Starship lands and SLS does not But landing is with less thrust. So if SLS is ok then Starship should be too.

  • Jeff Wright

    Nothing says he can’t land Starship there?

  • Lee S

    This kind of bullcrap kinda refutes all the arguments we have had over the years about the US being the land of the free etc ( and this all set rolling well before sleepy Joe!)
    Regardless, would it not be possible for Musk to start up a separate company in South America, Africa, wherever, and transfer business regarding Starship there?
    Falcon business could stay in the US, paying US taxes etc, but the more “experimental” SpaceX stuff seems better suited, or more to the point, there seems places better suited for SpaceX, than the US.

    As a relative “outsider” to your space politics, I find it hard to parse the facts that Starship is both part of NASAs future plans, and yet seems to be getting blocked over and over, apparently just for the sake of the blocking… What is it with you guys? It’s almost like you have factions that don’t believe in the private sector??

  • Ron Desmarais

    If I were Musk and the government continued to jerk me around like this I would find a reason to stop all Falcon 9 launches (maybe some sort of equipment safety issue). My bet is that if he held up launches long enough things would change. It is time for pushback, contracts or not.

    Also, if Musk is still a citizen of South Africa maybe he could start a new SpaceX type of company there.

  • David Ross

    Please no, Ron; “safety” is the last thing SpaceX wants to bring up, if there’s a bigger and badder rocket on the block.
    My suggestion would be to point to that study which said that soot was dangerous to the high atmosphere. Falcon 9 uses kerosene which is sooty; just look at it after it lands.
    I commented at the time – and probably said so here as well – that this was good news for Elon because his competitors also use kerosene and SuperHeavy uses LCH4. This news just gave to Elon a weapon.
    Elon wants only to save the environment and, so sadly, he can no longer in conscience do so with the Falcon 9. Gotta keep that E part of ESG.

  • Why is it the first reaction of so many people when I post stories like this is to suggest that Elon Musk flee, to run away? Not only can’t he do it (both for legal and practical reasons), it is the worst possibly reaction to this government overreach.

    It is time all Americans stopped running. There really is no where else to go. We need to stand and fight, and force the government and its intolerant minions to back down. Otherwise, freedom will continue to lose ground everywhere.

    I expect Musk to fight, as he has fought and won previously.

    As for moving:

    1. Legally he can’t. SpaceX as a rocket company falls until strict federal regulations. No matter where he moves those regulations will apply, especially because much of his work force and materials will come from the U.S.

    2. Practically he can’t. The qualified workers and infrastructure doesn’t exist in these other locations. You can’t simply recreate this kind of hi-tech company in South Africa, in Mexico, or any other third world country.

  • I believe this is more Politics than science. If Musk would only take a hard Left (political) turn, he would be back in the good graces of the Federal Government as it is currently constituted. When he declared that he, Musk, would be leaning towards the Republican Party, he burned a whole lot of bridges. And since Blue Origin and ULA are both now fonts of the Progressive movement, they have more pull with NASA, the FAA and the FCC.

  • John K. Strickland

    The maps in the document your site linked to have provided the location of the SpaceX Fabrication and Construction area on Roberts Road, which is south of the VAB area. I had previously been unable to find a Roberts Road on Merritt Island, with one short one far to the north on the mainland in a heavily congested commercial area.

    The question is: will any delay in the expansion of the industrial area for SpaceX delay the construction of the launch area complex. As far as I can see, the work there is moving very fast.

    If Musk is worried about additional delays on any land-based launch site, he should be looking at sites offshore of seaports with the needed industrial area available close to the port so the rocket can be moved directly onto a ship for transport to an offshore launch platform. However, I assume that his work force is stretched thin at the moment.

    John S

  • Edward

    BillB wrote: “I believe this is more Politics than science.

    Considering that the “solution” in Boca Chica was for SpaceX to fund a couple of environmental groups and to rewrite the history of the Mexican-American War in the Brownsville area (to better fit a specific narrative, of course), it is clear that these harassment campaigns are political. Even the article practically says so:

    “We actually applied for environmental approval for launch from the Cape a few years ago and received it,” Musk said during the February presentation. “So, we actually are approved from an environmental standpoint to launch from 39A. So, I guess our worst-case scenario is that we would be delayed for six to eight months, to build up the Cape launch tower and launch from there.”

    The environmental reviews is supposed to not be for launch operations, which should have been settled, because the rocket has not changed, but is supposed to be for the proposed expansion of the manufacturing/refurbishment site and the transportation roadways between there and the launch pad, the landing pad, or both. This particular process is not political but statutory. If this is used as an excuse to rescind the Starship launch permission, then it is likely that politics has played a part.

  • pawn: That link is the same link I provide in the original post above.

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