On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration finally gave Elon Musk and SpaceX environmental approval to expand its Starbase South Texas facilities and test the rockets intended for a future mission to Mars. The news came after months of delays and protests from environmental conservation groups.
SpaceX's facility in Cameron County, Texas is based in a small coastal beach town surrounded by the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. Musk plans for the site to become the central transit hub for regular journeys to Mars, going so far as to suggest the company might incorporate the land where the facility is based as the town of "Starbase."
The location of the test site for the Starship Super Heavy project has drawn criticism from groups concerned that regular rocket testing and launches will negatively affect populations of rare birds and other species that inhabit the unusual costal wetlands and mudflats that surround the base. Residents of both the town of Boca Chica and the nearby city of Brownsville have also criticized the company's regular road closures, which limit beach access, and seeming ability to act without the permission of local government, as Protocol reported in 2021.
The approved environmental plan includes about 15 pages listing the mitigations SpaceX must put in place to reduce how the planned testing will affect the surrounding environment and local residents' daily lives.
Despite the new environmental approval, testing for the Starship Super Heavy rocket project still cannot begin until the FAA gives a final license determination, which will include additional safety and financial considerations.