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SpaceX planned 9 mile launch, 'self-destruct' zone over Gulf

6 months 2 weeks 4 days ago Wednesday, November 25 2020 Nov 25, 2020 November 25, 2020 6:59 PM November 25, 2020 in News - Local

SpaceX came close to hitting the launch button on an early November flight up to 50,000 feet (9.4 miles) at its Boca Chica launch site, according to federal and state emails.

The company planned to launch its SN8 Starship prototype November 3, according to emails obtained from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and later between November 9 and 11, according to an email from a U.S. Coast Guard official.

Both of those launch dates did not happen. SpaceX neither announced those plans nor any cancellations. Meanwhile, the company followed through with a series of static fire tests and road closures at its Boca Chica launch site. SpaceX now plans the 50 thousand foot launch (15km) for next week.

The most striking detail among plans shared between emergency personnel, was the emergency scenario, which called for a "self-destruct" area, up to 9.9 nautical miles offshore of the Brazos Santiago southern jetty tip, according to an email written by Jason Cross, with the U.S. Coast Guard's Corpus Christi Sector.

"There is a good chance of failure on this test vehicle with debris falling into the ocean," wrote Cross, to emergency response personnel in the area. "We will need everyone to stay out of the self-destruct zone in case there is an incident."

The self destruct zone was illustrated in emails. The roughly 90 square mile area was bounded to the south at the U.S. Mexico Border, extending seven miles north. At the closest point, the zone was 1.5 miles from the City of South Padre Island.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted Tuesday he aims to launch the 15 kilometer flight next week. But Musk also said he had low confidence the SN8 will have a successful landing.

"Lots of things need to go right, so maybe a 1/3 chance," he said. "But that's why we have SN 9 & SN10."

Road closures are requested by SpaceX and authorized by Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. Trevino stated during a November press conference emergency management staff were working on safety plans for launches. He did not offer details on the 15 kilometer launch.

Channel 5 also attempted to get information on a safety plan from SpaceX, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Texas Parks and Wildlife also planned for a scenario in which boaters were inside the the self destruct zone during a scheduled launch. And Coast Guard officials planned to issue a "notice to mariners" prior to the launch. But some leeway was to be given to SpaceX.

"SpaceX will decide a go/no go based on vessels inside the safety zone per FAA regulations," wrote Cody Jones, boating law administrator in the TPWD law enforcement division.

TPWD, faced with a potential launch, was also working quickly to gather information for its own emergency response plan. An official instructed staff to look into a list of bullet points including:

- possible chemicals used and "exposure to Wardens in response to an explosion"

- a plan for handling persons and debris in the event of a major disaster

- obtaining better information on the potential "blast radius"

In response to our request for clarification on those concerns, a Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesperson said "these bullets are not part of any formal plan and were merely for pre-planning purposes."

Monday, the FAA published a stakeholder webpage on the Starship launch. It was the agency's first acknowledgement of the planned launch at Boca Chica. Officials are now evaluating an experimental permit and seeking input from the public.

And more momentum is expected at the site.

"SpaceX is planning for regular (twice a month) launches moving forward," wrote Jones, the Parks and Wildlife officer.

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