FAA's SpaceX Starship Review to Last at Least 2 More Weeks

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
2 min read
SpaceX's Starship rocket above Mars.

An illustration of Starship above Mars.


What's happening

The federal agency overseeing commercial space launches isn't quite ready to give a green light to Elon Musk's big rocket.

Why it matters

A required review is taking several months longer than initially expected, and Musk is already way behind his initial timeline for sending humans to Mars via Starship.

What's next

The FAA could issue a launch license, or impose another delay, by the middle of June.

After several months of delay, there are signs that the Federal Aviation Administration is getting closer to finally wrapping up a required environmental assessment and issuing a launch license for the first orbital flight of the rocket Elon Musk hopes will send humans back to the moon and on to Mars. 

That said, the FAA announced Tuesday morning that it is extending its self-imposed deadline for completing the environmental assessment yet again. But this time, the delay is only for another two weeks, rather than the additional one or two months FAA has given itself in past postponement announcements.

"The FAA intends to issue the Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the SpaceX Starship / Super Heavy project on June 13, 2022," the agency said in a statement via email. "Interagency consultation is ongoing. The completion of the PEA will not guarantee that the FAA will issue a launch license. SpaceX's application also must meet FAA safety, risk and financial responsibility requirements."

Over 18,000 public comments were submitted during the environmental review process that began in 2021. The FAA has been consulting with SpaceX and other government agencies over the past several months to mitigate as many concerns as possible over the potential environmental impacts of the mission. 

Watch this: 'Launching three times a day': Elon Musk's Starship update explained

The current plan will see SpaceX launch a Starship prototype paired with a Super Heavy booster for the first time ever. The vehicle would blast off from the company's Starbase facility in Texas for a brief flight to orbit and then return for a water landing off the coast of Hawaii. The booster will attempt a landing on an offshore landing pad in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Originally, the FAA hoped to complete the assessment by the end of 2021, but the deadline has been repeatedly pushed back, most recently from the end of April to May 31. 

The best case for Musk and SpaceX would be a finding of no significant impact, or FONSI, from the assessment process, which may include some additional measures or modifications SpaceX will have to undertake before launching, but would still likely allow launch to go forward as soon as the middle of next month. 

It's also possible that the FAA will find that a more rigorous environmental impact statement is required, a process that could delay the launch of Starship by many more months. 

SpaceX didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.