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FAA stymies Musk’s SpaceX plans

March 29, 2022

The powerful Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has again placed a halt on Elon Musk’s plans to launch rockets from his Boca Rica, South Texas site. The location is where Musk’s engineers are building a new suite of giant Starship and Super Heavy rockets.

The FAA is conducting an environmental review on the rockets and their potential damage to the surrounding countryside and its wildlife.

The FAA was originally expected to wrap its study by the end of February. That slipped to the end of March. Now the FAA has again slipped beyond the end of March to the end of April, and stressed that there is no guarantee that the review will be in SpaceX’s favour.

Musk is seemingly assuming the worst and has started preparing build and launch sites at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, and where FAA launch permissions are already in place.

Nevertheless, a FAA refusal for activity at the South Texas site would severely impact Musk’s plans. Most experts suggest a 6-8 month delay in launch activity.

This could affect the roll-out of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband-by-satellite programme. While SpaceX is currently launching its Starlink low Earth orbiting satellites at a rate of around 50 craft per launch, the new Starship rockets could manage up to 400 Starlink satellites per launch and a significantly speedier deployment of the Starlink system.

Texas remains SpaceX’s preferred location for continued testing of Starship.

“Because we have a lot of launches going out of the Cape we didn’t want to disrupt the Cape activity — the operational launches — with the advance R&D of Starship,” Musk said in February. “So it was important to decouple the operational launches from the R&D launches. That’s why we’re at [the South Texas] location.”

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