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Notice

Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST); Notice of Availability and Request for Comment on the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for Issuing an Experimental Permit to SpaceX for Operation of the Grasshopper Vehicle at the McGregor Test Site, Texas

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AGENCY:

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation.

ACTION:

Notice of Availability, Notice of Public Comment Period, and Request for Comment.

SUMMARY:

In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, 42 United States Code 4321-4347 (as amended), Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) NEPA implementing regulations (40 Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] parts 1500-1508), and FAA Order 1050.1E, Change 1, the FAA is announcing the availability of and requesting comments on the Draft EA for Issuing an Experimental Permit to SpaceX for Operation of the Grasshopper Vehicle at the McGregor Test Site, Texas.

The Draft EA was prepared in response to an application for an experimental permit from Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX). Under the Proposed Action, the FAA would issue an experimental permit to SpaceX to conduct suborbital launches and landings of the Grasshopper Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) from the McGregor test site in McGregor, TX. The Grasshopper RLV is a vertical takeoff and vertical landing vehicle. The McGregor test site is located within the city limits of the City of McGregor, TX in Coryell and McLennan Counties, approximately 20 miles southwest of Waco, TX. The Draft EA addresses the potential environmental impacts of implementing the Proposed Action and the No Action Alternative of not issuing an experimental permit to SpaceX.

The FAA has posted the Draft EA on the FAA/AST Web site at http://www.faa.gov/​about/​office_​org/​headquarters_​offices/​ast/​. In addition, copies of the Draft EA were sent to persons and institutions on the distribution list (see Chapter 8 of the Draft EA). A paper copy of the Draft EA may be reviewed for comment during regular business hours at the following location:

McGinley Memorial Library, 317 Main Street, McGregor, TX 76657.

DATES:

Interested parties are invited to submit comments on environmental issues and concerns on or before October 26, 2011, or 30 days from the date of publication of this Notice of Availability, whichever is later.

ADDRESSES:

Please submit comments in writing to Mr. Daniel Czelusniak, Environmental Program Lead, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Avenue, SW., Room 325, Washington, DC 20591; or by e-mail at Daniel.Czelusniak@faa.gov.

Additional Information: Under the Proposed Action, the FAA would issue an experimental permit to SpaceX, which would authorize SpaceX to conduct suborbital launches and landings of the Grasshopper RLV from the McGregor test site in McGregor, TX. SpaceX has determined that to support the Grasshopper RLV activities under the experimental permit, it would be necessary to construct a launch pad and additional support infrastructure (water lines). Therefore, the Proposed Action analyzed in the Draft EA includes the activities that would be authorized by the experimental permit (i.e., the operation of the launch vehicle) as well as the construction of the launch pad and installation of water lines. The experimental permit would be valid for one year and would authorize an unlimited number of launches. The FAA could renew the experimental permit if requested, in writing, by SpaceX at least 60 days before the permit expires. SpaceX anticipates that the Grasshopper RLV program would require up to 3 years to complete. Therefore, the Proposed Action considers one new permit and two potential permit renewals.

Although an experimental permit would authorize an unlimited number of launches, the FAA, in conjunction with SpaceX, developed a conservative set of assumptions regarding the possible number of launches that could be conducted under any one experimental permit for the Grasshopper RLV at the McGregor test Start Printed Page 59769site. The FAA has assumed that SpaceX would conduct up to 70 annual suborbital launches of the Grasshopper RLV under an experimental permit at the McGregor test site. This estimation is a conservative number and considers potential multiple launches per day and potential launch failures.

The only alternative to the Proposed Action analyzed in the Draft EA is the No Action Alternative. Under the No Action Alternative, the FAA would not issue an experimental permit to SpaceX for operation of the Grasshopper RLV at the McGregor test site. Existing SpaceX activities would continue at the McGregor test site. Please refer to Section 2.2 of the Draft EA for a brief discussion of existing SpaceX activities.

The resource areas considered in the Draft EA include air quality; noise and compatible land use; land use (including U.S. Department of Transportation Section 4(f) Properties); biological resources (fish, wildlife, and plants); historical, architectural, archaeological, and cultural resources; hazardous materials, pollution prevention, and solid waste; light emissions and visual resources; natural resources and energy supply; water resources (surface waters and wetlands, groundwater, floodplains, and water quality); socioeconomics, environmental justice, and children's environmental health and safety; and secondary (induced) impacts. Potential cumulative impacts of the Proposed Action were also addressed in the Draft EA.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Mr. Daniel Czelusniak, Environmental Program Lead, Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Avenue, SW., Room 325, Washington, DC 20591; telephone (202) 267-5924; e-mail: Daniel.Czelusniak@faa.gov.

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Issued in Washington, DC, on September 20, 2011.

Glenn H. Rizner,

Deputy Manager, Space Transportation Development Division.

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[FR Doc. 2011-24717 Filed 9-26-11; 8:45 am]

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