Elon Musk’s SpaceX could be ordered to take down its huge Starship launch tower in Boca Chica, the FAA has warned

Elon Musk
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Hannibal Hanschke-Pool/Getty Images
  • The FAA told SpaceX it could ask the company to take down its Boca Chica rocket-assembly tower.
  • SpaceX is already building the tower – but it doesn’t have FAA approval yet.
  • An FAA spokesperson told Insider that “the company is building the tower at its own risk.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned Elon Musk’s SpaceX that it could order the company to take down its new rocket-assembly tower at its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, Reuters reported.

The tower is being constructed for future launches of SpaceX’s Starship rocket, which could begin in July, according to the company’s president Gwynne Shotwell.

An FAA environmental review of the Boca Chica launch site including SpaceX’s proposed Super Heavy rocket and tower is still underway and therefore “the company is building the tower at its own risk,” an FAA spokesperson told Insider.

The FAA sent a letter to SpaceX in May saying that work to build one of its proposed towers “may complicate the ongoing environmental review process for the Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program,” Reuters said. The FAA needs to complete its review before SpaceX can obtain a launch license for the Boca Chica site.

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“It is possible that changes would have to be made at the launch site, including to the integration towers to mitigate significant impacts,” the FAA letter said, per Reuters. The FAA added that it had only learned that the integration tower was being built “based on publicly available video footage.”

-Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 1, 2021

The FAA said SpaceX told it in May that it doesn’t think the review is necessary because it plans to use the launch tower “for production, research, and development purposes and not for FAA-licensed or permitted launches,” per Reuters’ report.

But the FAA said that SpaceX documentation “indicates otherwise,” including one document saying that the towers would be used to integrate the Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle, the report said.

The FAA had completed an environmental review of the Boca Chica site in 2014 but it told SpaceX in the May letter that the “146.30m-tall integration tower is substantially taller than the water tower and lightning towers” it had previously assessed.

SpaceX and the FAA did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

This is the latest in a series of clashes between SpaceX and the FAA.

As part of the agency’s environmental assessments, SpaceX needs to ensure that the Starship-Super Heavy system won’t harm nearby wildlife or ecosystems around its Boca Chica launch pad. Without FAA approval and a launch license, SpaceX’s first Starship orbit mission could be delayed, a source told CNN in June.

Musk blasted the agency in February for canceling SpaceX’s Starship flight following a reported launch license violation, and claimed that “humanity will never get to Mars” under new FAA rules.