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FAA completes SpaceX Starship safety review as environmental assessment remains ongoing

Image Credits: SpaceX (opens in a new window)

The Federal Aviation Administration has finished a key portion of the launch license review for SpaceX’s Starship, bringing the company one step closer to a second launch.

Regulators said Tuesday that they completed a safety review focused on how a Starship launch could affect public health and property. That review evaluates SpaceX's “safety organization, system safety processes, flight safety analysis, and quantitative risk criteria for launch, reentry, and vehicle disposal,” an FAA spokesperson said in a statement.

That regulators have completed the safety review portion of the license is critical — especially considering that the first Starship orbital flight test in April ended in a spectacular midair explosion of the vehicle.

However, this does not mean that regulators have given SpaceX a green light for launch. The company is still awaiting the results of the environmental assessment, which the FAA is conducting in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). That updated biological assessment, being performed under the Endangered Species Act, will examine potential impacts to the local environment.

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The FWS and FAA initiated that review on October 19, and they have 135 days to provide an updated assessment. Among their considerations are SpaceX’s new water deluge system, which SpaceX installed after the orbital launch mount was destroyed by the rocket booster’s ultra-powerful engines.

SpaceX’s Starship is the most powerful rocket in human history. The nearly 400-foot-tall Super Heavy booster and upper stage (also called Starship) took off on its maiden test flight on April 20. The launch vehicle did not complete stage separation, which triggered an automated self-destruct command that detonated the rocket over the Gulf of Mexico.

For its part, SpaceX has said that it’s ready to go for a second orbital flight test. In testimony provided to lawmakers earlier this month, SpaceX’s VP of build and flight reliability Bill Gerstenmaier said that Starship has been ready for its next flight test “for more than a month.”

In a tweet last week, SpaceX said it conducted a wet dress rehearsal of the stacked vehicle in preparation for launch.

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