Army Corps of Engineers rejects SpaceX Starbase license application due to lack of information

The U.S. Department of Engineering has closed a permit application for the planned expansion of SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas – a possible snag in the company’s plans to add new launch pads to the area, as well as significantly expand the site. . In a letter viewed by The VergeCorps said that SpaceX had not provided the requested follow-up information on the proposed changes as a reason for the closure of the license. Among other things, the group wanted further information on what mitigation measures the company would take to limit water loss and wetlands around the site.

SpaceX first acquired land in Boca Chica, Texas, in 2012, with the aim of creating facilities to launch its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy missiles. But the company has significantly expanded its plans in recent years and created a giant new site called Starbase to build and test prototypes of the next-generation rocket called Starship – designed to eventually take people and cargo into space.

As SpaceX continues to expand its infrastructure in Boca Chica, the company regularly changes its existing license with the Army Corps of Engineers, which ensures that construction plans do not violate clean water and river and port laws. In December 2020, SpaceX proposed to amend its current expansion permit, which would include “additions to test, runway and landing pads, integration towers, infrastructure, rainwater management features and car parks,” according to an official announcement of changes made by the municipality in March. . SpaceX also included a rough map showing its plans, which included building two launch pads, two launch pads under an orbit, a new landing pad and other major infrastructure changes.

Such changes would require SpaceX to fill existing apartments and wetlands. An official statement stated that the proposed changes to SpaceX would affect “10.94 hectares of mud, 5.94 hectares of wetlands with estuaries and 0.28 hectares of wetlands without tides. The Corps also said that SpaceX was working on a “comprehensive, comprehensive countermeasure policy” for the firing range, as well as taking certain precautionary measures to minimize water impact, such as placing its proposed parking lot in a “highland area to avoid wetland impact.” asked to comment on proposed changes during the comment period ending April 20, 2021. Various activists, such as the Sierra Club and the local private organization Save RGV, urged the public to ask the village to refuse the permit change.

Image by JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images

At the end of the comment period, the team sent a letter to SpaceX on May 21, 2021, specifying the comments, which included responses from the EPA, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the team itself, and the Texas Environmental Protection Agency. SpaceX was asked to comment on the comments, as well as to provide various documents, such as a mitigation plan to avoid wetland impact and offset water loss, a plan for other buildings that would have the same purpose but have less impact on the area. , and more.

Although SpaceX responded to comments and analysis of other infrastructure in October, the company did not provide its countermeasure plan and other necessary responses, according to a letter sent by Corps to SpaceX on March 7. The Corps decided that SpaceX’s plan for options “lacked sufficient detail. Part of the problem was also about the necessary No Action Alternative from SpaceX. In essence, SpaceX will have to submit another plan to Corps for its proposed operations, which would achieve the same goals that the company hopes to achieve but without affecting wetlands.

The letter cited confusion about SpaceX’s No Action Alternative, in light of contradictory statements the company has made publicly and in response to Corps. In particular, in its October analysis of options, SpaceX ruled out the possibility of launching Starship from Cape Canaveral, Florida – the company’s primary target for flying the Falcon 9, according to the Corps. But in February, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, said in an official broadcast about the company would move to Cape Canaveral to launch Starship if SpaceX does not receive specific regulatory approval. The military noted that the move to Cape Canaveral appears to be a no-brainer. If SpaceX were serious about that possibility, it would require much more rigorous analysis, according to Corps.

As a result of this incomplete information and confusion, Corps SpaceX said in the new letter that its license application had been withdrawn. But while SpaceX’s license is closed for now, it seems like it’s easy to reopen.

“As of March 7, 2022, the SWG Surveillance Office has” closed “the application process because Space Exploration Technologies has not provided the requested information as described in the letter,” said Lynda Yezzi, Galveston’s Chief of Staff Army Corps of Engineers. (SWG), wrote in an email to The Verge. “Without the requested information, the licensing process can not continue. Once the requested information is received, SWG will resume the licensing process. “Yezzi stated that the current SpaceX license, approved in September 2014,” is still in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations and is still valid.

It is unclear exactly why SpaceX failed to provide the necessary information or whether the company intends to send what Corps requested. SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Although SpaceX will have to undergo a federal inspection with the force, it is also in the midst of a lengthy environmental inspection by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is deciding whether to grant the company permission to launch Starship away from Boca Chica. In September, the FAA released a draft structured environmental assessment outlining how SpaceX’s expanded plans for Starbase would affect the area. (In these plans, SpaceX does not consider the possibility of launching from Cape Canaveral as an action.) The FAA has consistently delayed its decision on how to proceed with Starbase, as it consults with various other government agencies on the project. The deadline for decisions is now the end of April.

In the meantime, SpaceX has begun expanding the construction of Starship’s launch infrastructure in Cape Canaveral. The move is seen as a possible sign that SpaceX will eventually move the vehicle’s operations to Florida if the FAA’s decision does not follow SpaceX’s.

Read Corps’ letter to SpaceX below:

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