SpaceX’s competitors challenge Starship’s Florida launch license over environmental and safety concerns

SpaceX’s plans to launch its two-stage Starship-Super Heavy rocket 44 times a year from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida have come under fire from its two main rivals: United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

The IS Starship The vehicle is the largest rocket in the world. Its two stages are SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster rocket, and the advanced stage spacecraft known somewhat confusingly as Starship or “Ship”, on which a crew of up to 100 astronauts may one day fly.

After undergoing testing over the past few years, the Starship/Super Heavy design has undergone several revisions, the latest of which results in a rocket that will stand up to 492 feet (150 meters) tall. To put this into context, the Saturn V 363 feet (111 meters) high, and the crewed version of NASA’s new version Spatial Address System it stands 322 feet 98 meters high. SpaceX’s rocket is huge, and it is planned to ferry astronauts to it the moon and Mars.

Before SpaceX A license to launch launches from launchpad 39A can be obtained at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, must provide an environmental impact statement detailing how SpaceX’s launches would affect the local environment and wildlife, as well as businesses and residents in the vicinity. This is done by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and is currently in the consultation phase, where local businesses, organizations and members of the public can give their opinions on the pros and cons of SpaceX’s plans. And, well, SpaceX’s competitors didn’t hold back.

Blue Origin submitted a 3 page letter to the FAA, in which they request that a limit be imposed on the number of launches and landings, reducing the proposed 44 launches to an unspecified amount “that has minimal impact on the local environment, local operating personnel and the local community,” they wrote.

The IS Blue Origin objections also arise that the Starship–Super Heavy will be holding an “unprecedented” 5,200 metric tons of liquid methane fuel, which is highly flammable and, if something goes wrong, could cause a devastating explosion on the launch pad. Blue Origin claims that the safety clearances are so wide that they overlap with the launch pads, hangars and offices of several other companies, including Blue Origin itself on launch pad 36, all of which are leased from the Kennedy Space Center .

Criticizing ULA ia was even more difficult 22 page document submitted by the company as part of the consultation. They don’t hold back, accusing SpaceX of producing their own environmental impact statement for the much-named ‘Starbase’ at Boca Chica in Texas from which they have been testing Starship so far.

A three-core rocket explodes under a sunny, cloudy blue sky.  smoke spreads below near a vague launch tower, near a long white hanger with SPACEX written on the side.  On the left, a bird flies away.

A three-core rocket explodes under a sunny, cloudy blue sky. smoke spreads below near a vague launch tower, near a long white hanger with SPACEX written on the side. On the left, a bird flies away.

In the letter, ULA points out that SpaceX’s environmental impact statement suggested that debris from any launch disaster would cover only one square mile (2.5 square km). In April 2023, during Starship’s first test flight, debris instead spread over a 6-mile (9.6-km) radius, endangering the surrounding area and showing how little danger SpaceX had to their cramped environment. The explosion was caused by environmental groups giving law against SpaceX and the FAA, which was eventually dismissed in court. At Kennedy, ULA’s base is located just 3 miles (4.8 km) from SpaceX’s 39A launch pad, which makes them understandably nervous.

“With the increased thrust planned for Starship, the debris from a similar launch failure could reach larger, more populated areas around KSC,” ULA said, suggesting that SpaceX launch Starship from Boca Chica instead .

“As the largest rocket in existence,” ULA wrote, “a crash would cause serious or even catastrophic damage, and normal launch operations would have a cumulative impact on structures, launch vehicle hardware and other critical launch support equipment.”

On the other hand, Blue Origin suggested that the Government build new launch pads further away from 39A for those companies like themselves that could be affected by SpaceX’s Starship operations.

There was also a lot of concern about the environment and local wildlife. To reach the target of 44 launches per year, at least 3 or 4 launches per month would be required, which would result in a 39A launch pad being used all year round. The IS Merritt Island Wildlife Society (Merritt Island is the peninsula on which the Kennedy Space Center is located) indicates that there will be floodlights on almost all time at 39A which will disrupt the natural rhythms of wildlife, for example by disturbing migratory birds.

the sun sets behind a giant rocketthe sun sets behind a giant rocket

the sun sets behind a giant rocket

Meanwhile, the Defenders of Wildlife The Florida-based organization points out that previous Starship test flights have resulted in nesting birds’ eggs being cracked by falling granular debris. Birds are known to nest near launch pad 39A, and more frequent launches would harm the birds in the area. However, Defenders of Wildlife state their belief that using 39A is better than building new launch sites on undeveloped land near Kennedy Space Center, as proposed by Blue Origin, which would also have a major environmental impact.

A wide-ranging investigation in the New York Times published June 8 details the environmental damage caused by SpaceX’s operations at Boca Chica, noting that the damage has sparked a debate “about how to balance technological and economic progress against the protections of sensitive ecosystems and local communities.” While FAA leadership is aware of the environmental issues Starship causes, the agency has also emphasized that the vehicle is vital to America. space program.

“Debris blowing into state parks or national land is not what we ordered, but the bottom line is no one is hurt, no one was hurt,” said Kelvin B. Coleman, Associate Administrator of the FAA for Commercial Space Transportation, by the New York Times. “We certainly don’t want people to feel like they’re being ostracized. But it’s a very important operation that SpaceX is doing there. It’s very important to our civilian space program.”

It’s not just the wildlife that Starship could affect. SpaceX’s water deluge system sprays a million gallons of water onto the pad during launch to protect it from damage during launch by absorbing much of the heat. While much of this water is evaporated, the rest runs into collection ponds around the launch site. ULA questions whether and how this water will be treated for any toxic or other hazardous chemicals it may contain, and what will prevent it from leaking out into the general water supply.

A huge steel rocket top just after the elevator next to its black launch tower.  Smoke glowed with orange billows below, filling the frame on both sides.A huge steel rocket top just after the elevator next to its black launch tower.  Smoke glowed with orange billows below, filling the frame on both sides.

A huge steel rocket top just after the elevator next to its black launch tower. Smoke glowed with orange billows below, filling the frame on both sides.

SpaceX is also eyeing a second launch pad, after investigating the use of launch complex 37 from 2026 onward at the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The US Air Force is conducting its own environmental study on this proposal before approval is given.

ULA also questions SpaceX’s decision not to use offshore drone ships to land the Super Heavy booster on, and instead land them back on 39A, which they say “shifts the risks to related to system failure on the communities, businesses and the environment around KSC.

All three companies are competing for the same NASA contracts, and some observers may see these complaints as sour grapes from SpaceX’s rivals struggling to keep up. SpaceX’s Elon Musk responded in a mocking manner similar to Blue Origin’s complaint on social media, posting “Sue Origin” on X (the social media company that owns it) in the days following the company’s letter.


— SpaceX, FAA seek to dismiss environmental groups’ Starship lawsuit

— SpaceX is gearing up to catch a Super Heavy booster with ‘chopsticks’ on an upcoming Starship test flight (video)

— SpaceX joins FAA to fight environmental groups’ Starship lawsuit: report

However, whatever the motivation behind the complaints, many appear to be related to safety and environmental impact. Even NASA has misgivings; are space agency officials previously stated that an incident at the launch pad could effectively reduce NASA from their only means of finding the International Space Stationwhich would leave astronauts stranded.

Blue Origin and ULA’s objections to Starship operations at KSC come down to both companies believing the rocket is too untested, too dangerous and too disruptive to the ecosystem of other Kennedy Space Center users.

However, it will be up to the FAA to decide whether those concerns are valid, and whether they are sufficient to prevent them. Elon Musk and SpaceX for fulfilling their Starship dreams.

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