One study to determine whether a bad launch from SpaceX’s planned Boca Chica Beach launch pad could pose a threat to proposed liquefied natural facilities on the Brownsville Ship Channel has concluded that the risk is insignificant.
Rio Grande LNG commissioned the “consequence and likelihood analyses” in response to an Oct. 27 request from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is reviewing the company’s proposed LNG export terminal projects.
FERC requested that Rio Grande provide a “space launch related projectile and debris analysis” from a third-party consult with prior experience evaluating space-launch activities for the U.S. government.
The analysis, conducted by ACTA Inc., was to take into account every type of launch vehicle SpaceX could use at Boca Chica, including but not limited to the Falcon 9 rocket, Falcon Heavy, and Interplanetary Transport System, also known as the “BFR” or “Mars Rocket.”
The study was also to examine the potential impact a failed launch might have inside LNG plant boundaries, including the effect on personnel and facilities if projectiles or explosion pressure from a failed launch were to exceed the design limits of occupied and unoccupied buildings, tanks, piping and other equipment.
The analysis was also to take into account related toxic clouds and vapor plumes, as well as potential impacts on LNG ships docked or in transit, and “cascading failures and consequences” in an emergency caused by a botched launch. Explosions on the ground and after liftoff were to be considered.
FERC also asked for a description of “mitigation measures and design features that would reduce risk of irreversible and fatal injuries to personnel” and reduce damage to buildings, tanks, piping, LNG ships and other equipment. The proposed Rio Grande LNG terminal site, on the north bank of the ship channel, is approximately 5.9 miles west-northwest of the SpaceX site.
ACTA’s 87-page report covers the Falcon and Falcon 9 launch vehicles but excludes the Mars Rocket due to the fact that it’s still in the conceptual stage and SpaceX hasn’t proposed launching it from Boca Chica.
The study identified as the worse-case scenario for a ground incident the explosion of a fully fueled Falcon Heavy on the launch pad, but concluded that the fireball and thrown fragments would not impact the Rio Grande terminal site or the ship channel.
ACTA concluded that debris from the catastrophic breakup of a launch vehicle occurring during the early stage of liftoff could “under adverse wind conditions” impact the LNG terminal area, but found “no credible scenarios of consequences” that would affect safety and operations, or emergency response at the terminal or on LNG ships docked or in transit.
In its response to FERC, Rio Grande said it has determined from ACTA’s analyses that no extra mitigation measures or design features are necessary beyond what is already included in the terminal design.
Spokesmen for the two other LNG companies that want to build export terminals on the ship channel, Annova LNG and Texas LNG, say they are close to issuing their own third-party reports soon in response to requests from FERC.