The proposal for the expansion of SpaceX’s starbase facility project in Boca Chica Texas is now denied by The US Army corps of Engineers. They have closed the permit application that was proposing the same. This is now a hurdle in the company’s plan to the expansion of the site and adds new ramps, launch & landing areas.
SpaceX had purchased the land in Boca Chica, Texas, so they can launch its Falcon 9 and other Falcon heavy rockets, in 2012. The land was suitable for the work and it was assured that no harm will be done to the wetlands. But the company later decided to expand the plans for building and testing launch prototypes of its new next-generation rockets Starship and for which they need to create a huge site to which they gonna call Starbase.
The reason that prevailing about the closure is that the company has failed to give the required information about the proposed changes and also they want to know more about what mitigation measures will be taken by the company for limiting the loss of water and also the wetlands that surround the site.
What are SpaceX, Starbase and Starship?
SpaceX or Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was founded by Elon Musk in 2002, so the cost of space transportation to colonisation Mars can be reduced. This company manufactures aerospace, provides space transportation services, and is a communication corporation. Starbase on the other hand is a private rocket production facility and also a spaceport by SpaceX. Starship is a next-gen rocket that is made of stainless steel and reusable that is developed by SpaceX.
Elon Musk created this company for the production of Falcon rockets but now in recent years, the company is focusing on the expansion of its permit that was with the Army Corps of Engineers. The permit says that the SpaceX activities will not harm and violate the Clean Water Act along with the River and Harbours Act. The company was running smooth till December 2020, but then they decided to go out of the permit’s boundaries and modify it so they can work on their new projects. The expansion in the permit includes the test, orbitals, vehicle parking, stormwater management features, landing pads, associated infrastructure, and integration towers. A crude map was also included by SpaceX in which there were two orbital and two suborbital launchpads, a whole new landing pad, and many other changes in infrastructure. This information is collected by a public notice released by Corps in March about the changes in the permit. These changes that are proposed by SpaceX will affect the wetland severely. These changes will need to backfill the material into wetlands and existing flats. According to the public notice, it is specified that the changes will affect the 10.94 acres of mudflats, 0.28 acres of nontidal wetland, and 5.94 acres of estuarine wetlands. The effect is indeed severe and the closure of the permit is reasonable. Along with these effects SpaceX, for the launch site, is also working on some comprehensive, multifaceted mitigation strategies. Reports also suggest that SpaceX is also working on taking some avoidance measures that can help in minimizing the impacts on the water areas they are thinking of putting its parking lot in an upland area. They asked the public members to comment and give their views on this and that period of comments ended on April 20, 2021. But many activist groups were against the proposed change permit, like Sierra Club and Save RGV, the local nonprofit group. After the expiry of the comment period, the Corps then sent a letter including the responses by EPA, Texas environmental protection organisation, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to SpaceX. The company is also asked to address the comments that were made along with all documents that are related to the proposed changes like mitigation plans to avoid the impacts on wetlands, managing the aquatic resources loss, and other plans for alternative constructions that will affect less to the area.
SpaceX did provide its response to those comments and reports of alternative infrastructure but there was no information provided by it about the mitigation plans. The Corps said that SpaceX’s alternative plan lacked sufficient details. They need to provide an alternative plan for its proposed activity to the corps. And those alternative plans are to provide the same goals, achieving formulas but without harming the wetland and water around the area. This reason and the confusion created over SpaceX’s No Action Alternative made it impossible for SpaceX to launch its new project Starship in its primary launch site Cape Canaveral, Florida after October but in February, Elon Musk stated during a public broadcast that they will move to Cape Canaveral to launch Starship in case they do not get regulatory approval. But in a new letter from the Corps to SpaceX, the withdrawal of the permit application is mentioned and the matter related to permitting is closed for now but it seems that this will reopen again soon. But the matter is still unclear as to why SpaceX is unable to provide enough information that is asked by the Corps. The company also needs to go through a detailed environmental review with the Federal Aviation Administration so they can determine if they provide the company with a licence to launch Starship or not. The FAA has given the latest deadline for the decision at the end of this April.