Last updated on December 25, 2021
In response to an inquiry from SpaceX, NASA is preparing to conduct environmental assessments to develop a proposed new launch site, Launch Complex 49, at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch of SpaceX’s Super Heavy rocket
“LC-49 has been a part of Kennedy’s master plan for several years,” said Tom Engler, Kennedy’s director of Center Planning and Development.
NASA’s commitment to environmental protections is codified in Kennedy Space Center’s Master Plan and Vision Plan, and all development activities on Kennedy are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“Every new construction project, whether government or commercial, goes through a comprehensive environmental review process,” said Don Dankert, technical lead for the Kennedy Environmental Planning Office. “This ensures that we are able to identify potential environmental impacts and define any associated mitigations prior to project implementation.”
The spaceport, located on 140,000 acres shared with the Merritt island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore, is home to numerous threatened and endangered species that live in harmony with the spaceport’s mission as the nation’s premier multi-user spaceport.
The 175-acre site, located north of Launch Complex 39B within the center’s security perimeter, would support the launch and landing of the company’s Starship and Super Heavy launch vehicle. NASA and SpaceX are moving forward with the initial environmental analysis before concluding a potential agreement to develop the property.
NASA will begin inter-agency and public scoping for the proposed LC-49 Environmental Assessment in early 2022. Scoping is a part of the NEPA process through which a federal agency describes a proposed action and potential alternatives. The agency will then seek input from other agencies, organizations, and the public on potentially affected resources, environmental issues, and the agency’s planned approach to analysis.
Other recent NEPA investigations at Kennedy cover the ongoing construction of the Indian River Bridge, the expansion of attractions at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, an environmental assessment of the new Launch Complex 48, as well as assessments for potential developments in Exploration Park and at the Launch and Landing Facility.
Kennedy Space Center Master Plan
Kennedy’s environmental team also is working to help improve the health of the Indian River Lagoon. In November 2021, the team shared its Indian River Lagoon Health Initiative with representatives from the five counties and various state and federal organizations that comprise the Indian River Lagoon Council. The plan identifies current and potential projects to help improve the fragile ecosystem in the estuary as part of a statewide watershed management approach to restore and protect Florida’s water quality.
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“We work hard to achieve a balance between spaceport growth and operations and environmental stewardship,” Dankert said. “It’s through the environmental programs that we are able to preserve and protect our unique and valuable natural resources while achieving NASA’s mission and values.”
SpaceX has already begun developing a site within the perimeter of LC-39A for Starship/Super Heavy launch operations and intends to use that site for future Starship missions. An Environmental Assessment was completed and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was issued September 2019. The proposed expanded operations at KSC, which include the LC-49 launch site and expansion of the Roberts Road site, would provide redundancy and capacity and allow SpaceX to increase the flight rate of Starship and minimize potential disruptions to Falcon, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon missions at LC 39A
All proposed developmental activities on KSC, whether government or commercial, are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). New construction project proposals are subject to a comprehensive environmental review process that includes an Environmental Assessment (EA) and site-planning to identify potential impacts. Environmental planning is implemented early in project development for proposed projects and activities located at KSC. Early planning facilitates compliance with NEPA and all applicable environmental laws and regulations, minimizes impacts to the environment, and reduces project uncertainty.
As part of NASA’s NEPA process, in consideration of the SpaceX Starship / Super Heavy proposal, to construct LC-49 and expand existing operations at Roberts Road an EA will be developed to assess and document the potential environmental impacts of the proposal prior to a final decision. Initiation and completion of an EA is not indicative of a proposed project’s approval or disapproval.
SpaceX also plans to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation for experimental permits and/or a vehicle operator license for Starship/Super Heavy operations at KSC. Accordingly, the EA will also consider the FAA’s NEPA implementing policy, FAA Order 1050.1F, Environmental Impacts: Policies and Procedures, regarding potential launch and reentry related impacts.
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