SpaceX facing FAA review of Starship launches from Kennedy

SpaceX's Starship rocket lifting off in November 2023.

SpaceX currently launches the Starship — the most powerful rocket ever built — from its Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, but it also wants to launch it from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

For that to happen, its plans will first have to be cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by way of an environmental review, the agency announced on Friday.

NASA carried out a similar review five years ago and saw no issue with SpaceX launching the Starship from Kennedy, but since then the Elon Musk-led spaceflight company has adjusted its plans for the Starship and its associated infrastructure, prompting the FAA to announce its own review to assess the impact of the launches on the local environment.

Changes to SpaceX’s plan at Kennedy include a greater frequency of launches, from 24 per year to as many as 44, and a slightly more powerful rocket design. SpaceX also wants to land the first-stage booster at Launch Complex 39A instead of at Landing Zone 1.

Pumping out a colossal 17 million pounds of thrust at launch — more than double that of the Saturn V rocket that powered the Apollo astronauts toward the moon from the same launch facility five decades ago, and almost twice that of NASA’s next-gen Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which launched for the first time in November 2022 — the Starship has a greater chance of disrupting the local environment than any other vehicle that’s launched from Florida’s Space Coast.

The maiden launch of the Starship, which has only flown three times to date, completely destroyed the Starbase launch pad when the force of the engines proved too great as the rocket lifted off. Debris was spread far and wide and into protected wildlife areas, causing consternation among environmentalists. SpaceX responded by building a more robust pad capable of handling subsequent launches.

These days, residents along the Space Coast are used to seeing launches involving SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, which spits out a mere 1.7 million pounds of thrust at launch, as well as the occasional mission by SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which is three times more powerful. Starship launches, however, will be something else altogether.

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