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SpaceX takes major step toward first orbital Starship launch

SpaceX has taken a major step toward the first orbital launch of its next-generation Starship rocket from its Starbase site in Boca Chica, Texas.

In its long-awaited Programmatic Environmental Assessment of SpaceX’s proposed launch, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told SpaceX it can proceed with its operations in the environmentally sensitive location so long as the company takes specific action to mitigate the environmental impact of the launch on the local area.

In one of two documents released on Monday, June 13, the FAA laid out more than 75 steps that SpaceX will need to take as part of its application to get final clearance for the orbital launch of Starship, which comprises the first-stage Super Heavy and the second-stage Starship vehicles.

The steps include monitoring nearby plant and animal populations, clearing mission debris from affected wildlife habitats, creating an exterior lighting setup at Starbase to reduce any negative impact on nearby wildlife, informing local communities about upcoming work activities, and getting involved in local projects geared toward education and preservation work.

The FAA also said SpaceX should issue timely launch notices to minimize closures of nearby State Highway 4 during launch operations. It added that closures of the road will not be allowed on 18 identified holidays, and that weekend restrictions should be limited to no more than five weekends per year, action that it said will ensure “robust access to the refuge and park throughout the calendar year.”

While it’s still to receive a launch permit from the FAA, SpaceX appeared happy with the results of the assessment, tweeting a short, simple message that said: “One step closer to the first orbital flight of Starship.”

One step closer to the first orbital flight test of Starship https://t.co/MEcQ6gST6Q pic.twitter.com/jxqEsM62gc

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 13, 2022

If the FAA’s assessment had made it hard for SpaceX to launch from Boca Chica, the private space company led by Elon Musk would have had little choice but to transport the launch vehicle all the way to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The FAA is also assessing issues linked to public safety and national security, among other matters, before it issues a license for a launch that SpaceX hopes it can achieve in the coming months.

Capable of 17 million pounds of thrust, the 394-feet-tall Starship will be the most powerful rocket ever flown when it finally lifts off from U.S. soil. NASA is aiming to use the reusable vehicle for crewed missions to the moon and possibly even to Mars.

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