SpaceX Starship proposal draws vocal public support, some criticism in FAA hearing


Starship gets stacked on Super Heavy.

Elon Musk

Dozens of people had the chance Monday to let the US government know how they feel about SpaceX’s plan to begin orbital flights of Starship from “Starbase,” the company’s launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. 

A majority of the public comments given during an online hearing held on Zoom by the Federal Aviation Administration were in support of the development of Elon Musk’s next-generation space vehicle, which NASA plans to use in its Artemis program to return astronauts to the surface of the moon.

“Essentially, it’s humanity living off the planet, and it’s very important for us to do that, ” Errol Plata, one of the commenters, said in summarizing his reasons for speaking in support of SpaceX. 

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

SpaceX has already conducted a high-altitude flight and landing of a Starship prototype (following several flights that rapidly disassembled in the landing phase) and plans to send the latest version to orbit from Texas, followed by a landing of its Super Heavy booster on an offshore platform in the Gulf Mexico and a soft water landing for Starship offshore of Hawaii.   

Over the course of more than three hours on Monday, members of the public who had registered in advance were given three minutes each to deliver their oral public comments on Starship and the draft. 

Most were in favor of SpaceX, though many positive comments appeared to originate from outside of Texas. A smaller number of people also voiced concerns about impacts on local ecosystems and species near Boca Chica. 

Sharon Wilcox, the senior Texas representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said her organization is “deeply concerned about the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts… including unplanned fires, debris fall and debris removal.”

Wilcox noted that 10 species considered endangered use the area, including ocelot, piping plover and five types of sea turtle. 

Many spoke not just of admiration for SpaceX, Musk and their rockets but also pointed to the benefits of decades of space exploration up to the present day, 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. 

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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 for the draft environmental assessment is set for Wednesday at 3 p.m. PT. You can register to attend and provide a comment online. Comments can also be submitted via email. 

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