SpaceX’s Starship Review Delayed by FAA: Here’s Why

by Liz Holland

SpaceX designed the Starship rocket to help humanity travel to Mars. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to push back the rocket’s initial orbital launch.

The FAA is currently conducting an environmental assessment of Starbase, the Texas site where SpaceX builds, tests, and launches Starship rockets. SpaceX plans to launch the breakthrough test mission as soon as possible following the organization’s assessment. The assessment’s original completion date was December 31st, 2021. 

However, the FAA pushed back the deadline to February 28th, just a few days before the end of the year. The organization explained the reason for the delay was due to the need for more extensive consultation with other agencies. Additionally, the FAA says they need to review public comments on the draft assessment that was released in September. 

FAA Delays SpaceX Mission Once Again

On Valentine’s Day, the FAA announced yet another pushback on the deadline. The agency now aims to complete the final review by March 28th, 2022. The FAA says this pushback is once again to allow for more time for comment review. Additionally, the administration wishes to conduct further interagency consultation.

It seems that SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, were expecting this delay in the timeline. Musk shared in a Starship update last week that someone gave the company a sort of rough indication” that they may receive FAA approval sometime in March. “So right now, I think we’re tracking to have the regulatory approval and hardware readiness around the same time,” Musk added during the update. 

If the FAA does give the green light by March, it won’t be long before Starship attempts orbit for the first time. However, the FAA could decide that the Starbase needs an Environmental Impact Statement. This process is more in-depth and time-consuming than the current environmental assessment. If this happens, Musk says that Starship’s first orbital test flight would most likely launch from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral in Florida. 

Elon Musk Has a Plan B

“We actually are approved from an environmental standpoint to launch from 39A,” he said. “So I guess our worst-case scenario is that we would, I don’t know, be delayed for six to eight months to build up the Cape launch tower and launch from there,” Musk explained.

SpaceX has previously completed missions from Pad 39A, but Starship would require a larger launch tower. The Space company aims to eventually launch Starship from multiple locations. So, building the launch tower at the Kennedy Space Center would make sense either way. Musk also noted during the update that SpaceX is also modifying two deep-sea oil rigs to be used as launch towers for the giant rocket. 

SpaceX says that the vehicles involved in Starship will be reusable. This milestone will make Mars colonization not only possible but financially feasible, according to Musk.