US warns SpaceX: new tower at Texas launch site has yet to pass environmental review

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned Elon Musk’s space company SpaceX that its environmental review of a new tower at its Boca Chica launch site in Texas was incomplete and that the agency may order SpaceX to dismantle the tower.

An FAA spokesperson said on Wednesday that the agency’s ongoing environmental review of SpaceX’s proposed “integration tower” for rocket assembly is “underway,” and added that “the company builds the tower at its own risk “.

A May 6 letter from the FAA to SpaceX seen by Reuters said recent construction activity on one of the two proposed towers “could complicate the ongoing environmental review process for the Starship / Super Heavy Launch Vehicle program.” . The FAA letter said the tower could reach 480 feet.

Based on the environmental review, the FAA could order SpaceX to dismantle the tower. “It is possible that modifications will be made to the launch site, including the integration towers to mitigate the significant impacts,” the May 6 letter reads, adding that the FAA has learned of the construction of the tower “on the base. publicly available video footage “.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment, but Musk has repeatedly criticized the FAA and the U.S. regulatory system.

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SpaceX told the FAA in May that it didn’t think the review was necessary because it only intended to use the “integration tower for production, research and development purposes. and not for launches licensed or authorized by the FAA, ”the FAA said.

But the agency said the description in the documents “indicates otherwise.”

The FAA cited a SpaceX document according to which the towers would be used to integrate the Starship / Super Heavy launcher. “Super Heavy would be mated to the launch medium, followed by the Starship mated to Super Heavy,” read the FAA letter citing SpaceX’s May 5 submission.

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The FAA and Musk have clashed on several occasions.

On June 29, Musk lamented the delay in launching the Transporter-2 mission in Florida. He tweeted “a plane has entered the ‘no-go zone’ which is unreasonably gigantic. There is simply no way that humanity can become a space civilization without major regulatory reform.”

Earlier this year, the FAA said SpaceX’s launch of the SN8 spacecraft in December violated its licensing requirements. As of March 12, the FAA began requiring an agency safety inspector at all SpaceX launches to “ensure compliance with federal regulations to protect public safety.”

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FAA Administrator Steve Dickson spoke with Musk on March 12 for 30 minutes to highlight “the role of the FAA in protecting public safety by ensuring regulatory compliance. He made it clear that the administration expected SpaceX to develop and foster a strong safety culture that emphasizes compliance with FAA rules, ”the agency said in April.

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Travis Durham

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