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SpaceX Starship Environmental Review to Go On for Month Longer at Least

The FAA needs more time to work through Elon Musk's latest plan for testing his big moon and Mars rocket.

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Starship prototype SN10 coming in for a landing.
SpaceX

We won't get to see the big rocket fly again until June at the earliest.

The US Federal Aviation Administration has again said it needs more time to complete a mandatory environmental review before it can issue SpaceX a launch license for Starship's first orbital test flight. The FAA said SpaceX made changes to its application, which the agency needs to look into.

The review process began last year, and the FAA collected around 18,000 public comments about the potential impacts of Elon Musk's plan to launch a Starship prototype atop a Super Heavy booster for the first time ever. The vehicle would lift off from the company's Starbase facility in Texas and send Starship on a brief flight to orbit and then back for a soft water landing off the coast of Hawaii. The Super Heavy is expected to attempt a landing on a modified offshore landing pad in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The FAA initially expected to complete the review by the end of 2021 but has continued to push back that target date. It had pledged to issue a final assessment by April 29, but instead issued another postponement.

"The FAA is working toward issuing the final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the SpaceX Starship / Super Heavy on May 31, 2022," reads an emailed statement from the agency. "SpaceX made multiple changes to its application that require additional FAA analysis."

The FAA has been consulting with SpaceX and other government agencies throughout the review process. The final assessment will either give the green light for the launch to go forward in the coming months or find that a more detailed environmental impact statement is required. An EIS can take several months to more than a year to complete. 

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

After early attempts ended explosively, SpaceX managed to successfully launch and land Starship without Super Heavy last year. The vehicle has never flown with the attached booster and has yet to leave Earth's atmosphere. 

The Starship development team has stayed busy throughout the delays. Crews in Texas have been building out upgraded Super Heavy boosters with the latest Raptor 2 engines, and construction has also begun on a second potential Starship facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.