We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.
— Wernher von Braun
SpaceX is in the process of developing a completely reusable two-stage super-heavy class orbital launch vehicle called Super Heavy / Starship. This is the latest iteration in an evolving design which has previously been called the Mars Colonial Transporter, Interplanetary Transport System, and Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). The present design (which continues to evolve) specifies a payload to low Earth orbit (LEO) between 100 and 150 tonnes. This compares to the 140 tonnes to LEO of the Saturn V which was, of course, completely expendable. The Super Heavy/Starship will be, if built to the current design, the largest and most powerful rocket ever, with a lift-off thrust of 62 meganewtons (MN), compared to 35.1 MN for the Saturn V.
On August 1st, 2019, NASA released the “Draft Environmental Assessment for the SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy Launch Vehicle at Kennedy Space Center (KSC)” [PDF, 21 Mb, slow to download]. This is a 250 page document, including supplementary material prepared by contractors, which assesses the environmental impact of the construction of facilities at the the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to launch Super Heavy/Starship and operational launches of the vehicle, building up to the planned launch cadence of 24 flights per year.
There is substantial new detail in this report which I’ve not seen before. For example, the current plan is to land the Super Heavy booster on a drone ship at least 20 nautical miles off the Florida coast. Earlier plans had it returning to the launch site and landing directly on the launch mount. There are detailed maps of expected noise levels from launches, landings, and the sonic booms created during these operations. They also consider a great many other things, including:
- Cultural Resources
- Air Quality
- Environmental Justice and Children’s Environmental Health and Safety
The “Biological Resources” section is one of the longest, in which you will learn more about the sex life of the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) than you probably wanted to know.
The reasonable and prudent measures and non-discretionary terms and conditions identified in the BO for CCAFS are similar to those for KSC to aid in the reduction of lighting impacts and incidental take of sea turtles. Measures require LMP compliance inspection, enforcement, and monitoring of sea turtle orientation. Lighting not compliant with the LMP must be made compliant prior to commencement of the launch/landing/processing operation. The incidental take for CCAFS and for KSC disoriented sea turtles was set to 3% for hatchlings and 3% for adults. The Service concluded this level of incidental take is not likely to result in jeopardy to sea turtle species or result in destruction or adverse modification to critical habitat (USFWS 2017).
KSC and CCAFS continue to make progress in reducing light use through development and implementation of LOMs and LMPs for launch complexes and facilities, and replacement of legacy, short-wavelength lighting with new light-emitting diodes (LED) long-wavelength light fixtures that are less disruptive to sea turtles and other wildlife (L. Phillips/NASA Environmental Management Branch, 2019, pers. comm., and A. Chambers/USAF 45SW, 2019, pers. comm.). A draft LOM specifically for LC-39A was prepared by SpaceX; approval is now pending with the USFWS. The LOM would be updated as necessary to reflect additional lighting and changes to existing lighting operations resulting from construction and operation of Starship/Super Heavy support facilities at LC-39A. The LZ-1 LMP is being updated by SpaceX (A. Chambers/USAF 45SW, 2019, pers. comm.).
Arthropoda do not seem to have received the same degree of scrutiny.
Studies of terrestrial invertebrates have been limited to research aimed at controlling salt marsh mosquitoes, Ochlerotatus taeniorrhynchus and Ochlerotatus sollicitans (Platts et al. 1943, Clements and Rogers 1964). A recent study (2016-2017) of bee population declines in urban environments was conducted with collections from KSC included; however, the report is not yet available (A. Abbate/Auburn University, pers. comm. 2019). A detailed biological survey of terrestrial invertebrates has not been performed on KSC.
Here is a Scott Manley video summarising the report and pointing out details it reveals about the Super Heavy/Starship, its engines, and the planned launch facilities.