SpaceX, the private space company owned by Elon Musk, is looking to test launch a fully assembled spacecraft, a nearly 30-story rocket, into Earth orbit this month. The launch site will be either the company’s development site in Boca Chica, Texas or NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will be the largest spacecraft ever launched, and authorities at both sites are worried about the possibility of a test failure — something SpaceX is familiar with — that could cause catastrophic damage to surrounding facilities and natural habitats.
The rocket is a prototype called Ship 24, which consists of a 240-foot-tall booster and a 165-foot-tall Starship upper stage. It now sits on a launch pad at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, ready for final testing before blasting off into space, SpaceX tweeted July 6. SpaceX is also building a launch tower at Kennedy Space Center near Launch Complex 39A, the pad NASA uses to regularly ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, as a backup option.
SpaceX has not yet obtained a Federal Aviation Association (FAA) launch license to fly from either site. He will also need a NASA permit if he wants to launch from Florida.
SpaceX has tested 12 Starship upper stage prototypes in Boca Chica since late 2019. Eight of them ended up in explosions, either on the launch pad or in the sky. The most serious incident, which occurred in March 2021 during the test descent of the 12th spacecraft prototype, spat debris up to five miles from the launch site. It took SpaceX three months to clean up. No injuries or material damage were reported.
Concerns about environmental damage, and more
Ship 24 is more than twice the size of previously tested prototypes and ten times more powerful, leading those working near the launch site to worry about what would happen if it exploded.
“We are very concerned,” said Stephanie Bilodeau, a conservation biologist who studies protected migratory bird species in the Boca Chica region. “Given how the natural habitat and wildlife in Boca Chica has been affected by previous testing, this is going to increase exponentially. I imagine it could destroy everything there.
The habitat surrounding the SpaceX facility is part of a National Wildlife Refuge property, where some migratory birds come to nest each spring. Bilodeau said there has been a noticeable drop in nesting activity since SpaceX began routinely testing Starship prototypes in 2020.
“An explosion at or above the launch site would be catastrophic, unequivocally for the surrounding wildlife refuge and possibly nearby communities,” said Jim Chapman, board member of Save RGV, an environmental organization. local non-profit. Save RGV, along with two other local groups, filed a lawsuit against the Texas General Land Office and Cameron County for frequent road closures during SpaceX operations.
Residents of Boca Chica and Brownsville, Texas have long complained about the presence of SpaceX. But county and city officials welcome the venture as a boost to the local economy. SpaceX employs more than 1,600 people at its Starbase facility. The company is expected to contribute $885 million to Cameron County’s gross economic output this year, Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez said at an April event.
“Even a successful launch will cause significant damage to wildlife refuge lands and surrounding wetlands” due to the heat and exhaust gases generated by the rocket, Chapman added. “This will essentially make the area habitable for migrating birds.”
NASA has expressed similar concerns about existing facilities at Kennedy Space Center. In June, the space agency’s chief operating officer, Kathy Lueders, said a Starship explosion could “be devastating” for Launch Complex 39A, the only site available to send astronauts to the International Space Station.. NASA said it would not grant launch clearance until it fully assessed the security threats.
In June, the FAA concluded a lengthy environmental review of SpaceX’s proposed orbital launch from Boca Chica. The agency asked SpaceX to take more than 75 actions to mitigate environmental impacts before issuing a launch license. Actions include keeping roads open on public holidays, notifying surrounding communities in advance of the noise of launches, andAdjusted lighting at Launch Complex to minimize impact to wildlife and nearby beach.
SpaceX did not respond to an inquiry about the progress of these actions.