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FAA Approves SpaceX’s Starship Launch in South Texas

The FAA has granted a "temporary flight restriction" that covers an area from just south of State Highway 48 at Port Isabel to the U.S.-Mexico border and extends east into the Gulf of Mexico.

(TNS) — A 17-story-tall silver spacecraft is testing patience and capturing imaginations in South Texas.

At the SpaceX launch facility in  Boca Chica  — near the mouth of the Rio Grande — Starship SN8 stands in the coastal breeze, ready to blastoff to roughly 50,000 feet sometime soon.

The craft's planned flight, its first above 500 feet, will also test its ability to glide and land vertically on a pad near its launch site.

The question is when — and that's been the question for several weeks.

Starship's launch window is from 9 a.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Sunday, according to an update Wednesday from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA granted a "temporary flight restriction" that covers an area from just south of State Highway 48 at Port Isabel to the U.S.Mexico border and extends east into the Gulf of Mexico. Aircraft are barred from flying in the area in order "to provide a safe environment for rocket launch and recovery," the FAA said.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. authorized the closure of Boca Chica Beach and portions of State Highway 4 Friday through Sunday. He's also approved additional closures Monday through Wednesday.

If nothing else, the wait for SN8 offers a reminder that space travel takes patience. Delays and changes are normal when it comes to lobbing rockets into the stratosphere. Technology and weather don't always cooperate with the plans.

Texas' infant space coast can learn about the anticipation and long waits for take-offs from its elders at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The waiting only adds to the mystique of the Starship, a reusable spacecraft that SpaceX CEO  Elon Musk  hopes will someday move people and cargo anywhere on earth and eventually to the moon, Mars and beyond.

SpaceX doesn't announce the timing of its launches, and the company's silence has spawned a speculator's paradise on social media.

The space paparazzi is humming with discussions about SpaceX CEO  Elon Musk's  tweets, FAA temporary flight restrictions, Cameron County beach closures and the best places to watch the launch.

People are also talking about BrownsvillePort Isabel and South Padre Island hotels and restaurants.

"Once we see that activity in the sky, I'm sure it will be a transformational moment where a lot of the buzz and attention that we've been seeing for many years will start turning into reality," said  Josh Mejia , executive director of the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation. "Investors will start taking those next steps, folks will start moving down — that's really what we're looking for.

"So as much as I wish I could just control the flight button on that project," he said, "we have to leave it for the professionals."

Mejia said Brownsville's sales tax revenue spiked nearly 25 percent last month, which is significantly higher than annual spikes around the holidays. He attributes the gain to the influx of employees and tourists looking in on SpaceX operations at Boca Chica.

When asked on Twitter about the chances for a successful landing, Musk said, "Lot of things need to go right, so maybe 1/3 chance." He added: "But that's why we have SN9 & SN10."

SN9, under construction at the company's production facility near the launch site, is nearly complete.

Last month, Musk announced that SpaceX will stream video of the SN8 launch, "although it might be quite a short livestream! Lot can go wrong, but we'll provide video, warts & all. You will see every frame that we do."

(c)2020 the San Antonio Express-News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.