US Army Corps Put A Big Kink In SpaceX’s Future Plans

By Joseph Farago | 3 months ago

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Elon Musk isn’t solely known for his innovative Tesla electric cars. The entrepreneur has also been at the forefront of space exploration, wishing to send himself to Mars someday and launching large fleets of satellites into Earth’s orbit. While he has massive plans for the terraforming of the solar system, he has hit a significant roadblock with his various satellite launches. SpaceX, Musk’s satellite company, faces a setback due to the US Army Corps.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has suspended Musk’s expansion of his SpaceX program. A new extension to the facility in Boca Chica, Texas, has been put on an indefinite hiatus due to SpaceX’s lag in showing needed documents. Musk’s program intended to build brand new bases and launch pads for the expansion, but that plan might not ever come to fruition. The US Army also wanted information about SpaceX’s conservation estimates, which failed to be delivered. Since the satellite company never disclosed what they would do to limit water usage or not disrupt the surrounding wetlands, the US Army Corps postponed the facility’s expansion.

The SpaceX facility in Boca Chica has been around for a decade, with the intention that it would eventually need more development. The expansion would include additional structures for launching the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 rockets. The Boca Chica site was the intended place to launch these rockets, which led to the eventual construction of the Starbase facility. Though designed specifically for Falcon 9 rockets, this facility started to shift gears to the Starship rocket. The continual expansion has made local authorities uneasy, leading to the ultimate delay of SpaceX’s extended development.

The biggest issue SpaceX has with its Boca Chica facility is its encroachment on an existing conservational pact. SpaceX’s permit with the US Army Corps of Engineers allows them to build on the designated land if they comply with the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. These acts protect the fresh water and various ecosystems in the surrounding area. When SpaceX didn’t disclose how their expansion would not hinder the wetlands neighboring the facility, the US Army revoked their permit.

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The first proposal to modify the existing permit came in December 2020. SpaceX’s proposal outlined an unfinished map of Starbase’s expansion, which would infringe upon more than ten acres of wetlands and mudflats. Though SpaceX addressed this issue by stating that they would construct certain lots above ground, the public and the US Army still needed more evidence. Prominent activist groups in the area petitioned the construction, pushing for the US Army Corps to deny the permit’s extension.

Though SpaceX was adamant about having a mitigation plan for leaving the wetlands unaffected, the company never released an outline establishing its clear goals and commitments. The vagueness of SpaceX’s plan led to the Us Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to rescind the permit for the facility development. After the denial, the Corps issued a statement addressing SpaceX’s plans “lacked sufficient detail” regarding their mitigation strategy. With no concrete outline to keep the surrounding environment unaltered, Musk’s satellite program will have to develop another strategy for its launch pad construction.