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FAA review of SpaceX Starship launch delayed by another month

SpaceX won’t be able to test its next-generation Starship rocket for some time yet, as the company will have to wait a while longer for clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The release of the FAA’s final environmental review of the launch has been delayed until May 31, as the agency wrote in an update.

The environmental review, called the Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA), has already been through a draft stage last year. But now the FAA says it will wait to release its final report until the end of next month. This follows a previous announcement by the FAA that it intended to release the review at the end of April, but that won’t happen now.

SpaceX's Starship spacecraft atop the Super Heavy booster.
SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft atop the Super Heavy booster at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX

The launch at issue is the first orbital test flight of the Starship, when the Super Heavy booster and Starship spacecraft will be launched into the air, then both sections will splash down into the ocean around 90 minutes later.

The concept of a PEA is to assess whether a planned launch could cause any threat to public safety, such as by flying over a populated area, whether it raises any national security issues, coverage of insurance issues, and any environmental impacts of the launch. In an explanation of the delay, the FAA said it was finalizing the review and that it was responding to public comments following the draft report.

“The FAA is finalizing the review of the Final PEA, including responding to comments and ensuring consistency with SpaceX’s licensing application,” the agency wrote. “The FAA is also completing consultation and confirming mitigations for the proposed SpaceX operations. All consultations must be complete before the FAA can issue the Final PEA.”

Though space enthusiasts and SpaceX fans will be unhappy about this latest delay, it’s not clear if the Starship prototype is actually ready for its first orbital test flight. As reports, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said last month that the company still needed to finish building its engines and integrate them into the Starship, so he was estimating May at the earliest for the first orbital test flight of the Starship.

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