FAA Hearing: SpaceX Starship proposal draws vocal public support & Some Criticism

Dozens of people had the opportunity Monday to share their views with the US government on SpaceX’s plan to begin orbital flights of Starship from “Starbase,” the company’s launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.

Much of the public comments made on Zoom during an online Federal Aviation Administration hearing supported the development of Elon Musk’s next generation spacecraft, the NASA plans to use it in its Artemis program Bring astronauts back to the surface of the moon.

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“Essentially, humanity lives off the planet, and it’s very important for us to do so,” said Errol Plata, one of the commentators, summarizing his reasons for supporting SpaceX.

The hearing was held to gather comments on a draft FAA environmental assessment for the program, which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act before the SpaceX agency can issue a launch license for Starship’s first orbital flight.

SpaceX already has one Soaring and landing of a Starship prototype (after several flights that were quickly dismantled in the landing phase) and plans to put the latest version of Texas into orbit, followed by a landing of its Super Heavy booster on an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico and soft water Landing for Starship off Hawaii.

Over the course of more than three hours, pre-registered citizens had three minutes each Monday to make their oral public comments on Starship and the draft.

Most were for SpaceX, although many positive comments appeared to be from outside of Texas. A smaller number of people also raised concerns about the impact on local ecosystems and species near Boca Chica.

Sharon Wilcox, senior representative of Defenders of Wildlife in Texas, said her organization was “deeply concerned about the direct, indirect and cumulative effects … including unplanned fires, rubble falls and debris removal.”

Wilcox found that 10 endangered species use the area, including ocelot, plover and five species of sea turtle.

In addition to speaking of admiration for SpaceX, Musk, and their rockets, many pointed to the benefits of decades of space exploration to date, including new technologies like GPS and satellite connectivity.

“Some piping plovers may have to move but there are always trade-offs,” Dan Elton said in his statement supporting SpaceX.

The final comment of the night came from Jessica Tetreau, a city commissioner for the neighboring Texas city of Brownsville, who said the company’s presence has led to a complete reversal of fortune for a town long beset by poverty and economic stagnation.

“I don’t just ask you, I beg you to give them that permit,” she said.

The FAA will continue to collect public comments in another Zoom session on Wednesday, as well as in writing through the end of the month. After evaluating and responding to the comments, the FAA will then decide whether SpaceX is allowed to move ahead with no or only minor adjustments or if a more intensive environmental impact statement will have to be drafted. If the agency decides an EIS is required, it would likely set back Starship by months or even years.

The second and final public hearing on the draft environmental impact assessment is scheduled for Wednesday at 3 p.m. PT. You can register to participate and post a comment online. Comments can also be submitted via email.

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