Federal Register: Notice of availability and request for comments on the draft environmental assessment (“Draft EA”) for launch of NASA routine payloads on expendable launch vehicles.

August 23, 2011 at 9:07 am | Posted in Space Law | Leave a comment

by P.J. Blount wit the blog faculty

NASA published a Notice of availability and request for comments on the draft environmental assessment (“Draft EA”) for launch of NASA routine payloads on expendable launch vehicles (PDF) in today’s Federal Register (76 Fed. Reg. 52694-52696):

SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA (40 CFR parts 1500-1508), and NASA NEPA policy and procedures (14 CFR part 1216 subpart 1216.3), NASA has prepared a Draft EA for launch of NASA routine payloads on expendable launch vehicles. For purposes of this Draft EA, NASA routine payloads include science instruments, spacecraft or technology demonstrations. This EA updates the Final Environmental Assessment for Launch of NASA Routine Payloads on Expendable Launch Vehicles from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base California published in June 2002. NASA missions covered by this Draft EA would be scheduled for launch at one of the proposed launch sites and would be within the total number of launch operations previously analyzed in launch vehicle and launch site NEPA documents. The proposed launches would occur from existing launch facilities at CCAFS, Florida, VAFB, California, the United States Army Kwajalein Atoll/Reagan Test Site (USAKA/RTS) in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility (WFF), Virginia, and the Kodiak Launch Complex (KLC), Alaska. The Cooperating Agencies on this Draft EA include the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Draft EA analyzes the potential environmental impacts associated with preparing and implementing launches of missions that are designated NASA routine payloads on U.S. expendable launch vehicles from existing U.S. facilities using established procedures. The NASA routine payloads meet rigorously defined criteria ensuring that the spacecraft and their operation would not present any new or substantial environmental and safety concerns. A Routine Payload Checklist is used to exclude missions from consideration as routine payloads if they: (1) Include any extraterrestrial sample return; (2) would be launched on a vehicle or from a launch site for which NASA has not completed NEPA compliance; (3) carry radioactive sources that could not be approved by the NASA Office of Safety and Mission Assurance Nuclear Flight Safety Assurance Manager or designee; (4) cause the manifested launch rate (per year) for a particular launch vehicle to exceed the rate previously approved and permitted at the launch sites; (5) require the construction of any new facilities (or substantial modification of existing facilities); (6) utilize hazardous materials in quantities exceeding the Envelope Payload Characteristics (EPCs); (7) utilize potentially hazardous material whose type or amount would not be covered by new or existing local permits; (8) release material other than propulsion system exhaust or inert gases into the atmosphere; (9) suggest the potential for any substantial impact on public health and safety not covered by this Draft EA; (10) have the potential for substantial effects on the environment outside the United States; (11) utilize an Earth-pointing laser system that does not meet the requirements for safe operations according to American National Standards Institute analysis techniques; (12) carry live or inactive disease-causing biological agents beyond Biological Safety Level 1; or (13) have the potential to create substantial public controversy related to environmental issues.

Payloads that fall within the Routine Payload Checklist would utilize materials, quantities of materials, launch vehicles, and operational characteristics that are consistent with normal and routine payload preparation and flight activities at these specified launch sites. Therefore, the environmental impacts of launching routine payloads would fall within the range of routine, ongoing, and previously documented impacts associated with approved programs that have been determined not to be significant. The purpose and need for this proposed action is to fulfill NASA’s mission for Earth exploration, space exploration, technology development, and scientific research. The scientific missions associated with NASA routine payloads could not be accomplished without launching orbital and interplanetary spacecraft.

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