SpaceX Needs an FAA Launch License Before Flying Its Starship-Super Heavy Rockets

The new rockets would provide a whole new way to get to space.
Loukia Papadopoulos

SpaceX has been busy rushing to develop its Starship-Super Heavy that may provide a whole new way to get to space but the requirement of a new license may soon see Elon Musk's plans derailed, reported Business Insider.


Starship-Super Heavy consists of a 16-story reusable spaceship, called Starship, mounted on a 22-story reusable rocket booster, called Super Heavy. Did you notice we said they were both reusable? That is because this aspect is key to Musk's plans for reducing space costs.

But in order to get his new spacecraft launched, Musk will have to meet some stringent requirements by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). "To operate Starship/Super Heavy at the Texas Launch Site, SpaceX must obtain an experimental permit or launch license from the FAA," Howard Searight, deputy manager of the licensing and evaluation division for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, wrote in a letter to Business Insider.

"Issuing experimental permits and launch licenses is a major federal action under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and requires a new environmental review beyond the 2014 EIS [Environmental Impact Statement]."

To be clear, SpaceX already went through an environmental review in 2014, that took three years to complete, but it predated the development of Starship-Super Heavy. Now Musk hopes he can speed things up by going through a simple Environmental Assessment.

This is a targeted revision of the review instead of a brand new development that typically takes only three to four months. This is of course unless it turns up problems in which case it could result in a years-long redo.  

Luckily, George Nield, a former FAA associate administrator, told Business Insider that that is not likely to happen.

"Private industry is not big, bureaucratic, slow government," Nield said. "With SpaceX in particular, they start down a road and if it looks like 'this is not going to be as fast as we thought,' or 'it's not the right approach to take,' or 'we've changed our mind, we want to do something different,' they'll do it."

This means that SpaceX has the flexibility to adapt its plans to what the FAA requires, making it more likely that it will pass its license. Good luck SpaceX!

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