SpaceX's Starship explosion leads to major lawsuit against FAA!

Washington DC - In the latest fallout from SpaceX's Starship launch, south Texas environmental groups and a nonprofit representing Native Americans are suing the Federal Aviation Administration, alleging that the agency is not adequately protecting the surrounding natural habitat.

In the latest fallout from SpaceX's Starship launch, south Texas environmental groups and a nonprofit representing Native Americans are suing the FAA.
In the latest fallout from SpaceX's Starship launch, south Texas environmental groups and a nonprofit representing Native Americans are suing the FAA.  © REUTERS

The lawsuit, filed Monday, claims that the FAA did not properly assess the environmental and community impacts of SpaceX's launch site near Boca Chica, Texas, and that the mitigation measures it has prescribed are not enough to protect the wildlife living near the launch site.

SpaceX's launch site is near the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Boca Chica State Park. The location is a prime habitat for wintering shorebirds and other wildlife, including ocelots and sea turtles.

After the Starship rocket's explosive test flight on April 20, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the launch hurled concrete particles up to 6 miles northwest of the launch pad and created about 385 acres of debris on SpaceX's site as well as Boca Chica State Park.

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A fire also started in Boca Chica State Park, the agency said.

Environmental groups and Nativa Americans join forces

SpaceX's Starship rocket exploded midair after its launch on April 20.
SpaceX's Starship rocket exploded midair after its launch on April 20.  © REUTERS

"It's vital that we protect life on Earth even as we look to the stars in this modern era of spaceflight," Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

"Federal officials should defend vulnerable wildlife and frontline communities, not give a pass to corporate interests that want to use treasured coastal landscapes as a dumping ground for space waste."

Plaintiffs in the case include:

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  • The Center for Biological Diversity
  • The he nonprofit American Bird Conservancy
  • The Surfrider Foundation, which advocates for protection of the ocean
  • Save RGV, a local environmental advocacy group
  • The Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, a nonprofit cultural institution focusing on descendants of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas and other Indigenous groups.

The Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas joined the lawsuit because frequent road closures in the area because of rocket testing have impeded its ability to perform traditional rituals and customs at Boca Chica beach, according to the lawsuit.

FAA's environmental assessment challenged

The launch hurled concrete particles up to 6 miles northwest of the launch pad and created about 385 acres of debris.
The launch hurled concrete particles up to 6 miles northwest of the launch pad and created about 385 acres of debris.  © REUTERS

The FAA had previously determined in an environmental assessment that SpaceX's launches would not have a significant impact on the surrounding area and issued the Hawthorne-based company a launch license for operations there.

After discovery of the debris spread, the FAA said SpaceX would be required to have "ongoing monitoring of vegetation and wildlife by a qualified biologist," including a pre- and post-launch survey, and sending a report to the FAA and other state and federal agencies. The Elon Musk-led company would also be required to work with local and federal authorities to remove launch debris from "sensitive habitats."

The FAA is also conducting a mishap investigation of the test flight and will not allow the Starship rocket to launch again until it verifies that processes and procedures related to the mishap are not a danger to public safety.

The plaintiffs in the environmental group lawsuit are seeking that the US District Court for the District of Columbia overturn the FAA's decision to grant SpaceX a vehicle operator license and force the agency to re-analyze the launch site's environmental impact.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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