In the wake of numerous regulatory delays that held up the planned orbital test of SpaceX’s Starship, Elon Musk floated the possibility of moving Starship testing from Boca Chica, Texas, to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX had initially planned to launch the orbital test of Starship last summer. It would have launched from the Boca Chica facility and splashed down just off the Hawaiian coast.
Regulatory red tape, the FAA’s intense scrutiny of potential environmental issues, and an overwhelming number of public comments caused numerous delays. The FAA now says it will release its final decision on February 28 at the earliest.
Elon Musk has previously blasted the FAA’s handling of rocket- and spacecraft-related regulation in the wake of a series of prototype rocket explosions in early 2021 that attracted unwanted attention from the regulatory agency. The unlucky streak with launching and landing Starship prototypes ended with the successful high-altitude test of the SN15 prototype.
An FAA spokesman said that regulators could pursue additional study of the impact on wetlands and wildlife if it turns out to be significant. Excessive noise is also a variable that the FAA considers. Rocket launches can get quite loud, especially for larger rockets like the Starship/Super Heavy stack.
Musk mentioned that additional scrutiny of the planned orbital test’s environmental impact could “set us back for quite some time.”
He did say that he preferred to use the Kennedy Space Center for operational launches like delivering cargo and crew to the International Space Station and launching satellites. Most of SpaceX’s rocket testing takes place at its Boca Chica facility.
However, he may think it’s worth the hassle of moving Starship-related testing to Florida to get away from hostile environmentalist groups that complained about the impact on the Boca Chica bird population and accusations of excessive road and beach closures.
Kennedy Space Center has a long history of space launches, including launching the legendary Apollo moon landing missions from Launch Complex 39A and B – a launch complex that SpaceX now uses for launches of its reusable Falcon rockets.
SpaceX already started building an additional launchpad at Kennedy Space Center for Starship. Once it’s operational, it might launch Starships as often as once a week.
Kennedy Space Center technical lead for environmental planning Don Dankert hinted that SpaceX proposed building an entirely new launch complex for Starship in a recent proposal.
SpaceX already has a contract with the Air Force to trial the use of Starship for delivery of cargo from point to point on Earth. It has also floated the possibility of using its big rocket to launch next-generation Starlink satellites and clean up “space junk” that is no longer usable but remains in orbit.
Elon Musk also plans to use Starship to transport cargo and people to Mars, potentially forming a large and growing permanent city on the red planet. As he famously said years ago, “I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.” He has given regular updates of his plans for Mars at events like the annual Mars Society conference.