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Starship/Superheavy 2nd test launch likely delayed until next year by federal bureaucracy and White House

Starship stacked on Superheavy, September 5, 2023
Starship stacked on Superheavy, September 5, 2023,
when Elon Musk said it was ready for launch

They’re coming for you next: While answering questions from reporters at a conference yesterday on when SpaceX might get its next Starship/Superheavy launch license, FAA acting chief Polly Trottenberg said she hoped that license will be awarded by October, but then slipped in one minor additional detail that had not previously mentioned or required:

SpaceX would still need a separate environmental approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before a launch. Trottenberg did not say how long that might take.

Not surprisingly, the story from Reuters buries this detail, spinning the story to make it seem that the FAA is eager to help SpaceX launch. Similarly, this story (a space news outlet which has also tried to spin things to make the delays appear the fault of SpaceX) fails to even mention this detail.

SpaceX is now destacking Starship from Superheavy (live stream here).

I predicted in the spring that intransigence from the federal bureaucracy, controlled by the Biden administration, would likely delay this launch well past August, and likely into next year. I also said I would be thrilled if my cynical prediction turned out to be wrong.

Sadly, it looks like that prediction will be correct, and in fact might have actually been conservative. Officials at Fish and Wildlife have strongly opposed SpaceX’s Boca Chica site, for what appear to be reasons related both to environmental activism and a political dislike of Musk. During the reassessment of the company’s environmental statement for the site, Fish & Wildlife objections were one of the main reasons the approval was delayed an extra six months (delays that I also predicted correctly).

It appears the Biden administration is now establishing new unprecedented protocols for any launch from Boca Chica. SpaceX must not only get permission from the FAA after detailed and never-before required investigations, it must also get permission from other agencies for each additional launch.

Expect delays to now be announced monthly, dribbling out slowly so as to boil the frog to death in a way the frog won’t notice. And the frog will be both SpaceX and the public. Worse, that boiling will likely be helped by many journalists, who either no longer have any skepticism of government and never question its actions, or are in enthusiastic league with it, eager to squelch Elon Musk and his company because of Musk’s public dissent from many Biden and Democratic Party policies.

As I wrote in December 2021, “This is America today, no longer free. Rather than you making the decision freely, as an American citizen, un-elected federal government officials now decide whether you can do anything, or not.”

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.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"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


  • Questioner

    Mr. Zimmerman, can’t NASA put pressure on the FAA (and on Biden’s regime)? After all, NASA has a great interest in SpaceX moving forward with Starship due to the planned moon landing, right? Isn’t a successful moon landing with a diverse crew a political goal of the Biden regime?

  • Bob Wilson

    I hope Musk and SpaceX are not as defeatist and negative as you are, Mr. Zimmerman.. spaceX could not have accomplished the many things they have if they had a defeatist attitude. I once had a grizzled engineer tell me that there is always a way. With your negative attitude, I’m sure you can come up with objections to any potential solution that I think take of so I won’t bother. But there is a way.

  • Bob Wilson: You confuse my honest reporting of the government’s aggressive effort to block free Americans from following their dreams with a defeatist attitude. What I am doing is exactly the opposite. I am trying to rally Americans to stop this oppression by the federal government by reporting it. I want to make the government uncomfortable about what it is doing. I don’t want it to get away with it.

    It is the willingness of too many Americans for too many years to look the other way, to avoid dealing with things they don’t like, that has gotten us to this point. This must end. We must become brutally honest about what is going on, and be unafraid of pointing it out. Above all, we must stop making excuses for an oppressive regulatory state that accomplishes little while crushing freedom in all ways.

  • Questioner: Of course NASA can do this, but you are making the mistake of assuming the Biden administration wants to get to the Moon. Hardly. Its prime interest, as is the prime interest of all Democratic Party politicians these days, is obtaining and keeping power. Squashing Elon Musk, who increasingly opposes them, is one way to do it. If that means destroying the new American space industry, no big deal.

    Think of Venezuela. The communist rulers there didn’t care if people were starving in the streets. All that mattered was that these communists remained the rulers.

  • Hear, hear, Robert! Elon Musk not trailing along with the other billionaires such as Bezos, Zuckerberg, Gates, et al in supporting the Leftist/Democrat Statists has rankled them and they will do all that they can to punish him and his companies to “encourage” him to come back to the plantation, serving the Lefts interests.

    If this continues, we may never see the launch of Starship/Superheavy again from Boca Chica or KSC.

  • geoffc

    I agree with Robert’s view of the issue and the behavior of the government.

    But some evidence, possibly to the contrary…

    SpaceX this afternoon destacked S29, which is ASSUMED To be for installing the FTS system. Which would only happen a few days before an anticipated launch. Of course, they could be doing something else. So hint not so much evidence.

    Second, apparently if you read the article carefully, the reporter added in the line about needing the Fish and Wildlife and everyone ran with his version. But people watching the event report that the FAA Person did not specifically say that. Hint again, not evidence. (I could just be hopeful for a launch soon and wearing rose coloured glasses).

  • geoffc: As I have said already numerous times, I sincerely hope my pessimism here is utterly wrong. At the same time, I make no apologizes for holding a magnifying glass to these delays caused by government interference. It might help light a fire under them and cause them to move more quickly than they normally might.

  • David Eastman

    Fish and Wildlife does not have any kind of approve/disapprove authority. But they are a party to the FAA process, and for the first launch, their report was one of the last items arriving, and in fact was responsible for a disconnect with many people reporting that the FAA was done and just needing to finalize and sign the report, and then weeks of further delay. The FAA *could* say, “hey, we’re ready, you gave us your report the first time, if you had important input you should have provided it on time” and issue a license without waiting for FWS this time, but of course they will not do so. They will not issue the license until FWS has delivered it’s report, and people have had a week or so to read it, argue it back and forth, and “test the waters” so to speak, on whether there is enough interest in using something in the FWS report to delay further. It’s a lot more likely that the kind of thing that didn’t pass threshold last time, will now, because the threshold for delay is of course much lower.

  • Col Beausdabre

    Mr. Zimmerman, can’t NASA put pressure on the FAA (and on Biden’s regime)? After all, NASA has a great interest in SpaceX moving forward with Starship due to the planned moon landing, right?


    See the ATF at Ruby Ridge and the massacre at the Branch Davidian Compound “Wow, we have got Christian Fundamentals. And they have guns!” They figured going after Koresh would impress the Clinton Admin and earn them tons of Attaboys. Hence an armed assault when simply driving up to serve a warrant would have been appropriate. Having a backup team ready to extract the warrant bearers if things went south would, perhaps, have been wise, but armed men storming a private residencce as the opening steps? NO!!

    Isn’t a successful moon landing with a diverse crew a political goal of the Biden regime?


    Sorry about the use of caps, but some peopl;e just don’t get it

  • Col Beausabre: I can understand your frustration, as I have writing about this stuff now for more than thirty years, and find it depressing how little people understand.

    As you say, the goal is power, just power. More people need to reread Orwell’s 1984. Too many need to read it for the first time.

  • Jeff Wright

    Psst…I heard Elon say that Kamala was quite pretty and was glad she was pro-space.

    For the ears…

  • Evergreen … from C. S. Lewis:

    Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

    This is what we get when a faction is so full of their self-righteous selves that they think they alone are the possessors of the One and Only True Way, and therefore see the world as the Righteous Normal vs. the Evil Other …

    … forgetting the wisdom of one Harry Callahan: a man’s got to know his limitations.

    These days, fascism doesn’t come in jackboots and armbands … it comes in academic and judicial robes that drip with such condescending arrogance. The Progressive Left have become the blind fundamentalists that they sneer at. It is about more than power to them … it is about validation by society of their way as the One and Only True Way, that they alone are the elite who possess “wisdom” and therefore should be allowed to lord it over everyone else.

    And they are further incentivized to do this, by the value our society has placed upon “elite” status.

    Those who are part of the societal and/or political elites are all-in invested in their elite status – financially, professionally, politically, even in terms of reputation and their own self-esteem. They have built their ENTIRE lives around being perceived as the elite.

    But this perceived value depends upon US continually needing … and therefore deferring to … them and their “enlightened” (godly) guidance. Hence the motivation to encourage its imposition as The One and Only True Way in every area, through both social pressure and in some cases the coercive force of law.

    Our refusal to extend that deference erodes the perceived value of elite status in this society. Which is why the elites are further motivated to the point of trampling upon our life and liberty, to coerce that deference to their One and Only True Way.

    Greed, hiding under the manifesto of zealots, in a manner reminiscent of Hans Gruber.

    Preventing all of the above is why respect for the life and liberty of the individual must be actively maintained by society and its governance, above ANY other “common good”. THIS is what we have lost in our “modern sophistication”.

  • TallDave

    lol is this how the human race dies out?

    as Elon has pointed out, SpaceX needs Starship to fly regularly within a couple years or bankruptcy may follow

    might be the last best opportunity for humanity to achieve multiplanetary status

    we are now China under the eunuchs

    technically capable but politically incapable

  • Richard M

    Fish & Wildlife is something of a wild card, unfortunately, but as regards the FAA, I think we should take note that Elon himself tweeted this out the other day:

    In fairness to the FAA, it is rare for them to cause significant delays in launch.

    Overwhelmingly, the responsibility is ours.
    8:20 PM · Sep 8, 2023

    But there are a lot of kibitzers in the kitchen, and some are more helpful than others.

  • Richard M

    Questioner: Of course NASA can do this, but you are making the mistake of assuming the Biden administration wants to get to the Moon.

    Yeah, I do not think the White House cares much at all about going to the Moon. Perhaps they *might* if there was a prospect of a landing right before the election. But that would be only a means to the end of keeping power!

    I do think that there are senior people at NASA who really want to go to the Moon (though they may have other motives or interests, too). But obviously they have less influence over regulatory processes than the White House does.

  • Richard M: I agree that Musk’s tweet likely describes the FAA accurately, but we must also remember that Musk has to be very careful how he treats those regulators. If he publicly embarasses or insults them, he will encourage them to make his life difficult.

    Thus, Musk and SpaceX applies pressure in more positive ways, by publicly getting ready and making that readiness known to the world. Thus these regulators — most of whom want things to fly — are encouraged to speed their work as much as possible.

    None of this helps if the administration wants things slow walked. These FAA regulators have to serve their masters, not Musk.

  • Richard M

    Hi Bob,

    I was struck by Elon’s tweet, though, precisely because he HAS prodded the FAA through his Twitter account before. So, it was a little bit of a surprise to see him characterize them in this way. I tend to think he’s being sincere!

    But none of this slack gets cut to Fish & Wildlife, about whom I harbor more skepticism. Their role makes me less confident we will see a launch next month. Here is hoping our fears are unfounded. I want to see this thing launch, ASAP.

    I think the way this administration is composed, there are conflicting interests. It seems plain to me that most of senior NASA management (notwithstanding Jim Free’s misgivings) and the Defense Department really do want Starship to succeed; it already figures in their long-term plans. And they understand all too well just how dependent they are on SpaceX *now*. But I think we can also agree that Joe Biden and his senior staff mainly want Elon Musk to crawl into a hole and die. One wonders how often heads get butted over SpaceX, behind closed doors.

  • Richard M

    There is a new update from the FAA, just a few minutes ago (about 5pm EST), which is frankly a little disappointing:

    Dear Interested Party:

    SpaceX conducted a test flight of the Starship/Super Heavy at Boca Chica, TX on April 20, 2023. As a result of that launch, SpaceX completed a mishap investigation with FAA oversight; this investigation analyzed the launch, mishap events, and corrective actions. Before it is authorized to conduct a second Starship/Super Heavy launch, SpaceX must obtain a modified license from the FAA that addresses all safety, environmental, and other regulatory requirements. As part of that license application determination process, the FAA will review new environmental information, including changes related to the launch pad, as well as other proposed vehicle and flight modifications. The FAA will complete a Written Reevaluation (WR) to the 2022 Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) evaluating the new environmental information, including Endangered Species Act consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If the FAA determines through the WR process that the contents of the PEA do not remain valid in light of the changes proposed for Flight 2, additional environmental review will be required. Accordingly, the FAA has not authorized SpaceX’s proposed Flight 2.

    The FAA will provide updates with notification of any license determination or results of additional environmental review.

    Thank you,
    The FAA SpaceX Boca Chica Project Team

  • markedup2

    I read this (via Instapundit):

    In addition to the launch license, SpaceX must get the “modifications” made on the Starship program approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the FAA said Thursday. Last month, the FAA submitted a draft update of the so-called biological assessment to Fish and Wildlife for review and “requested consultation” under the Endangered Species Act.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service said such consultation can be triggered by various circumstances, such as when a project and its impacts change significantly, there is new information on listed species not previously considered, or a new species is listed. Fish and Wildlife said that once it reviews the FAA’s final biological assessment, it has 135 days to issue a final biological opinion.

  • Steve Richter

    The democrats allowed the April flight. So the Elon opponents in the Biden White House are not all powerful. The water deluge system is a tremendous improvement. Doesn’t its use, if it works, make rocket launches much less harmful to wildlife and enable space ports to be operated closer to population centers? If so, the FAA must be interested in seeing that it works.

    The message boards of space flight web sites are a place where liberals have to endure the presence of conservatives. Liberal space enthusiasts are very keyed up to see Starship launch into orbit. And they do not like to lose the argument to conservative commenters. As it is, all they can say is that the FAA has important work to do and the public has to be patient. Point being, NSF and the other liberal space YouTube channels do not want to wait much longer for a launch. My bet is still with a launch before the month is complete.

  • Steve Richter: You need to see my most recent post about this, put up just a few minutes before your comment above. The FAA now says no launch license before the end of October, and even that depends on whether Fish & Wildlife approves.

  • Col Beausabre

    Friend of mine is a consulting civil engineer, who has worked on major projects like expanding the New York Subway system (Second Avenue Subwaty – which was first proposed 103 years ago So he has a close up on federal regulators. His take? “If they were around in the 18th Century, we would even now be approaching the Susquehanna River”

  • Edward

    markedup2 wrote: “The Fish and Wildlife Service said such consultation can be triggered by various circumstances, such as when a project and its impacts change significantly, there is new information on listed species not previously considered, or a new species is listed. Fish and Wildlife said that once it reviews the FAA’s final biological assessment, it has 135 days to issue a final biological opinion.

    Well, there’s an irony. The improvements are there to make the launches work more like the original approvals had expected. The significant difference is less concrete and sand tossed everywhere, the complaint of the environmentalists. One would think that the result would be quick approval of the better system.

    Most likely, they are now afraid that some water may splash over into a swamp that is supposed to already contain a great deal of water. Go figure.

  • Max

    Zimmerman said;
    “Think of Venezuela. The communist rulers there didn’t care if people were starving in the streets. All that mattered was that these communists remained the rulers”

    A similar tactic used in Ukraine right now, removal of all opposition parties, all media now state run, elections suspended indefinitely, all in the name of preserving Democracy. Just like Venezuela.

    Jester Naybor quoted;
    “those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

    It is said; “for evil to triumph, all it takes is for good men to do nothing”
    That’s the thinking of hindsight.
    While it is happening… Good men can never believe that this kind of evil can occur until it’s too late to do anything, or the fortitude to do what it takes to be as evil as the perpetrators to stop them.
    Stop who?….
    Here’s an example of what we’re up against using “all so soothing words” of moral fortitude of his unwavering belief that everyone but one or 2 billion must die… The death cult the WEF represents. 2min

    Or this guy, speaking on behalf of the pope. Paul Ehrlich, who wrote the population bomb, used in official meetings as an influencer. despite technology proving all his predictions to be wildly off, the death agenda moves forward.
    “Pope Francis once declared that “Marxist ideology is wrong,” only to add, “I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people . . . . There is nothing in the [Marxist] exhortation that cannot be found in the social doctrine of the church.”
    “This meeting is not an isolated incident. It is the outcome of a process that has been going on for a few years, one that is leading the Holy See to become an instrument of the birth-control movement.” He revealed that at the closed meetings many speakers called for the “physical elimination of the poor” in order to “eliminate poverty.”
    “Truly eye-opening”

    Bill Gates is doing his part, spreading disease in the name of inoculating the population. Here’s his factory tour.
    It works so well, they are re-doubling their efforts!
    (they claim the females are genetically modified to die quickly before producing offspring, and yet they separate the females for their breeding stock… Somebody’s lying)
    Don’t worry, Bill Gates owns a vaccine factory that has yet to produce a product that has passed testing. He’ll make sure you have what “he thinks” will cure you!
    (Congress authorized $2 billion to fight the Zika virus even though it was less than a dozen people who had it… {With the same symptoms as people poisoned by round up} Within two years, the Zika virus was extinct! or perhaps was never real in the first place… no idea where the 2 billion ended up)
    Just in case you’re thinking about not getting the new vaccine proven safe and defective™️ on “4” rats against a disease that is extinct, or doesn’t exist yet
    The rebels fight back.
    The Empire threatens more lockdowns;
    Fauci said, “If you have a vaccine available, you might want to lock down temporarily so you can get everybody vaccinated,” he suggests.”

    You won’t get the vaccine? Well then Bill will put it in your FDA recommended salt substitute.
    (there’s also a 12 minute video there of other great projects Bill has in store for you, like injecting meat, poultry, food stuffs, even medicating drinking water)

    Another Bill Gates venture, cutting down California forest and burying the wood to keep the carbon out of the air… why doesn’t he start with the Amazon forest?

    It’s a mad mad mad world. The ego of the would-be dictators of the world would never allow the first colony on the moon or Mars to have anyone’s name or statue erected on another body in the solar system, other than their own.
    The “would be” colony founder statue of Elon musk would be quickly torn down as all the other statues have been across the world as history is being altered and erased.

    Just as 401(k) fiduciary responsibilities to the customer have been transferred to saving the planet with renewable energy as retirement accounts are being drained… don’t be surprised if SpaceX is confiscated for the same excuse, a private public partnership ran by elites for a higher purpose?
    Can you feel that boot coming down on your face?

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