FAA Approves Blue Origin West Texas Launch Site for Testing New Reusable Launch Vehicles

©Blue Origin

Blue Origin test flight.

As first reported on the web site Parabolic Arc, the FAA on February 7th gave Blue Origin approval for further launches of their Reusable Launch Vehicles at their West Texas launch site after conducting a Supplemental Environment Assessment (SEA). The SEA provides updated details on future Blue Origin activities.

"After reviewing and analyzing currently available data and information on existing conditions and the potential impacts of the Proposed Action, the FAA has determined that issuing experimental permits and/or launch licenses to Blue Origin for operation of suborbital RLVs at the West Texas launch site would not significantly impact the quality of the human environment. Therefore, preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement is not required, and the FAA is issuing this FONSI. The FAA made this determination in accordance with all applicable environmental laws. The Supplemental EA is incorporated by reference in this FONSI".

The Blue Origin stated purpose and need as outlined in the 113 page Supplemental Environment Assessment (PDF) is: "The purpose of Blue Origin's proposal is to continue its launch operations at the West Texas launch site to include new development vehicles, which would use liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants. Continuing to operate the West Texas launch site satisfies Blue Origin's need for a private launch site from which to conduct research and development activities, operate business, and transport space flight participants to the edge of space and return them to the same launch area after a short flight."

"The Launch Operations section of the SEA provides details on Blue Origin's upcoming flights. "The launch operations of the RLVs are similar to what was described in the 2006 EA, and the information is summarized here. RLV launch, flight, and landing activities would require less than an approximately 10 to 15 minute period to complete. The specific trajectory, thrust and duration is expected to vary from one flight to another, due to different atmospheric conditions and different flight objectives. In a flight to its highest altitude, the propulsion module would continue under thrust from its engine(s) until reaching approximately 200,000 feet; the duration of this propulsive flight phase would be approximately three minutes or less. The vehicle would then coast up to an apogee of approximately 350,000 feet. The propulsion module would then descend under gravity until the engine(s) is/are restarted to enable a powered landing on the Landing Pad; however, the vehicle would also be designed to land within a 4-mile radius of the Landing Pad. The vehicle's nominal ground track would remain within the boundary of private land controlled by Blue Origin and its affiliates during the entire flight."

"The propulsion module may be flown either with or without the CC attached at liftoff. If the CC is attached at liftoff, the CC would land in one of two ways:

1. The CC may separate from the propulsion module during flight. During a nominal flight, this separation would be done using a combination of springs and possibly a low-impulse reaction control system (e.g., not using the solid rocket motor). In an off-nominal flight, the solid rocket motor on the CC may fire to more-quickly separate the CC from the propulsion module. In either scenario, the CC would land using parachutes within a 4-mile radius of the Landing Pad (North Pad).

2. Alternatively, the CC may remain attached to the propulsion module throughout flight,
including during the PM's landing operations. Although an experimental permit authorizes an unlimited number of launches, for purposes of this analysis, the FAA has assumed the following number of launches would occur as part of the Proposed Action (see Exhibit 2-4)."

The SEA further states under the Construction heading: "The FAA has the authority to issue experimental permits and licenses, and therefore launch activities are analyzed as part of the Proposed Action in this Supplemental EA. In addition to analyzing launch operations and in accordance with the requirements of NEPA, this Supplemental EA includes environmental assessment of all activities that are connected to the action. Therefore, construction activities proposed by Blue Origin are included as part of the
Proposed Action for this Supplemental EA, because the facilities would support the proposed licensed and permitted launch activities at the West Texas launch site. Exhibit 2-5 provides a description of construction activities that are included as part of this Proposed Action. The location of existing and proposed infrastructure at the West Texas launch site are shown in Exhibit 2-6."

"All construction activities related to the Proposed Action would occur within the Blue Origin property line. The timeframe of the construction activities could begin as early as 2013, and may extend through 2019 like the proposed launch operations. It is possible that the construction could extend beyond 2019; if the construction is connected to an FAA action that requires environmental review, it will be reevaluated at that time"

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