It's finally happening.
SpaceX can officially launch its colossal Mars rocket — Starship — into orbit from South Texas, according to an environmental review from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), released on Monday.
The agency concluded that Elon Musk's private aerospace firm's aims to execute orbital launches of Starship pose "no significant impact" on the region throughout the Gulf Coast near Brownsville, Texas.
While 75 more items of action must be completed to reduce the ecological impact of the surrounding environment from Starship launches, this means Musk's aims to send humans to Mars — in addition to SpaceX's forthcoming missions with NASA to return humans to the moon — is finally locked down.
So strap in, and prepare for the next phase of Space Race 2.0.
SpaceX's Starship is cleared for its path to Mars
As a next-generation launch system, SpaceX's Starship will be a central pillar of NASA's Artemis project, which aims to return humans to the moon, and take us even farther into deep space. Most crucially, to build a settlement on Mars. But now, with the FAA's approval, Musk's firm has a gateway to this future on its hands.
This isn't without a few provisos — for one, SpaceX must give earlier notice of its launches. It must also take care to monitor the effects on wildlife and vegetation of the region by coordinating biologists with state and federal agencies, while ensuring that all launch debris is safely removed from sensitive habitats. Notably, lighting in the region must be adjusted to reduce its impact on wildlife, in addition to a nearby beach.
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The FAA's measures also demand SpaceX limit its closures of a highway that's near the launch site so that ordinary people can still go to the nearby beach, park, and enjoy the wildlife refuge. One wonders why Elon Musk wanted to build a giant rocket launch facility near a wildlife refuge, but these things happen. Regardless, the FAA said the highway couldn't be shut down on 18 holidays, in addition to no more than five weekends annually.
This might sound like a lot to some, but make no mistake: The FAA's decision could have enforced an even more cohesive environmental review — potentially adding months to years of waiting before Starship could get its proverbial legs off the ground. But SpaceX could face even more regulatory steps and legal obstacles. For example, it has yet to obtain a license from the FAA to actually launch (although these are far less daunting).
SpaceX's Starship will soon soar into orbit
SpaceX has been developing its Starship launch system in the tiny town of Boca Chica, Texas, for years. There, preceding variants of the stainless steel juggernaut have hopped, flopped, flipped, and exploded in glorious blazes of hellish fire repeatedly — that sounds serious, but these attempts were necessary to attune and refine the most powerful rocket ever built. Combined with its booster stage (also called a "fully stacked Starship"), the erect launch system reaches nearly 400 ft (121.02 m) high.
In case you missed it that's taller than the Statue of Liberty and its giant pedestal, in New York City. Starship is also completely reusable, unlike any other orbital rocket. This could save unspeakable riches for SpaceX, Musk — and by proxy, U.S. taxpayers, whose money helps subsidize the billionaire space baron's dreams in the form of lucrative contracts with NASA, the U.S. military, and other wings of the federal government.
Soon, Elon Musk's SpaceX will launch the fully stacked Starship from Boca Chica, and it will zoom above the Gulf of Mexico, using its proximity to the Earth's Equator to aid its journey to orbit by adding the planet's own rotational velocity to that of the rocket. So don't look away, because Space Race 2.0 is about to take its biggest step in years.
This was breaking news about SpaceX winning permission from the FAA to begin its orbital Starship flights and was regularly updated as new information became available.