FAA Reveals More Details For SpaceX’s Starship Mars Rocket Site In Texas

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) moved forward in its evaluation of SpaceX's proposed rocket facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. This progress comes in the form of the agency opening requests for public comment regarding the proposed facility construction, and in the process, providing brief details of what SpaceX's operational base will be made up of. Today's request comes after the FAA opened up a new environmental review for the Boca Chica site due to the vastly different nature of operation between SpaceX's in-development Starship launch vehicle platform and its operational Falcon 9 rocket lineup.

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The FAA's primary goal in evaluating SpaceX's plans for the Boca Chica site is to determine whether the proposed operations cause any threat to the surrounding environment and wildlife. These concerns cover a variety of areas, such as Starship's fuel. The vehicle will use liquified methane as its fuel, with the gas itself responsible for contributing to greenhouse emissions, and the FAA is the final authority to determine whether current and proposed operations violate any pre-set limits.

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After it commenced the Environmental Assessment (EA) late last month, the agency is back almost a month later to solicit public comments for the facility. As part of this solicitation, the FAA has opened up a public scoping period which will expire a month from now on the 22nd of January, 2021.

More importantly, the agency has also provided more details about SpaceX's proposed activities in the Boca Chica area that are part of the assessment. These activities include constructing several additional facilities, such as a natural gas pretreatment system and a redundant launch and landing pad.

A view of the Starship SN8 prototype a second after mission control held the mission just after 16:00 EST on December 9, 2020. The prototype would proceed to conduct a successful 12.5-kilometer test flight later in the day. Image: SpaceX

Specifically, according to the details shared by the agency on its website:

SpaceX's proposed new launch-related construction activity consists of expanding the solar farm, adding infrastructure and facilities at the VLA, a liquid natural gas pretreatment system and a liquefier. At the VLA, SpaceX is proposing to construct a redundant launch pad and commodities, a redundant landing pad, two integration towers, tank structural test stands, and a desalination plant.

While so far SpaceX has only been conducting test flights from the Boca Chica facility, in the future, the company hopes to develop the area as a fully functional spaceport for Starship. SpaceX's new launch platform will replace the company's current workhorse, the Falcon lineup, and aims to enable SpaceX to conduct crewed and uncrewed flights to Mars.

The latest test flight came at the start of this month when the Starship SN8 prototype successfully took off from Boca Chica and managed to meet most of its testing criteria, except for a successful landing.  In addition to the SN8, which was a testbed for the platform's upper stage spacecraft/payload fairing, SpaceX will also test the larger Super Heavy booster in Boca Chica.

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It's this booster that will form the backbone of the next-generation launch vehicle platform, and at this front, the company has been quite tight-lipped recently. In its latest revelation, the FAA mentions the Super Heavy once again, with the agency confirming that SpaceX's proposed launch operations from Boca Chica will include both suborbital testing and orbital flights.

SpaceX C.E.O. Mr. Elon Musk hopes to launch the first Starship rocket to Mars by 2022, with crewed flights coming later in the program. SpaceX's new platform will be quite diverse as it will not only allow the company to re-use the entire rocket (both the first and second stages) but also use a single platform for both crewed and uncrewed missions.