SpaceX is requesting to join the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as co-defendant to fight a lawsuit brought by environmental groups in South Texas. The groups that jointly filed the lawsuit include: The Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, Save RGV, and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, Inc. They filed the lawsuit on May 1, alleging that the FAA “failed” to adequately assess the potential damage that SpaceX's massive Starship rocket could inflict on the nearby U.S. National Wildlife Refuge lands at Boca Chica Beach after SpaceX performed the first launch of a fully-integrated Starship on April 20.
During the launch attempt to orbit, the Starship Super Heavy rocket’s 33 Raptor V2 engines' intense power broke the concrete underneath the launch mount and generated a massive cloud of sand dust and concrete debris. The lawsuit says that the environmental groups have concerns over the debris that descended onto the surrounding area. Though, SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently said that the debris was like a "sandstorm" and does not affect the environment in a significant way. "[...] Debris was really just basically sand and rock so it's not toxic at all [...] it's just like a sandstorm, essentially... but we don't want to do that again,” he said during a Twitter Spaces chat on April 29.
During the launch, Starship’s rocket engines also experienced an issue which caused the vehicle to steer off course and SpaceX decided to command the Flight Termination System (FTS) to intentionally cause an in-air explosion of the stainless-steel rocket-ship four minutes into flight over the Gulf of Mexico ocean. The company has a debris hotline and recovery teams to clean up the region.
The Center for Biological Diversity's statement on May 1 says –"Rocket launches and explosions cause significant harm through increased vehicle traffic and the intense heat, noise, and light pollution from construction and launch activities." The nonprofit organization from Arizona further added, "Rocket explosions spread debris across surrounding habitat and have caused brush fires." SpaceX is already working to build a steel platform under its Starbase launch pad that will be cooled by a water diverter system to try to prevent flames and dust from spreading to the surrounding area on future flight tests.
The FAA performed an environmental assessment last year and determined that SpaceX would cause “No Significant Impact” and imposed more than 75 “mitigating” actions to protect the environment that SpaceX had to undertake before receiving permission to launch Starship from Starbase this year. SpaceX did take the necessary steps to mitigate potential impacts to the surrounding nature. SpaceX reduced its lights at night and even has a sea-turtle rescue team that inspect the Starbase launch site area every week, especially during nesting season. SpaceX employees collaborate with some local environmental groups to do what they can to keep wildlife safe, they have rescued multiple stranded turtles in the sandy region as previously reported by TESMANIAN. SpaceX has also helped save cold-stunned sea turtles during winter months in South Texas by providing volunteer employees and also electricity generators when power outages affected animal rescue teams. Read more: SpaceX has a Starbase Sea Turtle Patrol rescue team at Boca Chica Beach
However, the lawsuit demands that the FAA conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which is a more thorough review of the project's environmental impact. SpaceX argues that requiring such an extensive assessment would likely significantly delay their operations. Consequently, SpaceX filed a motion on May 19 in court, requesting a federal judge to allow it to join the FAA as a co-defendant in the ongoing lawsuit. The court filing was first-found by CNBC: Read Document
The company aims to achieve sending a Starship to orbit this year to speed up the spacecraft’s development at Starbase. It seeks to have the opportunity to defend its Starship launch permit because it is “critical to multiple aspects of SpaceX’s business, including government contracts of national and international importance, such as the Artemis program, which will return Americans to the Moon for the first time in 50 years” and its deployment of Starlink satellite internet constellation, the filing states.
“Starship/Super Heavy stands to revolutionize space travel by substantially reducing the cost of accessing space while substantially increasing the mass and size of payloads that can be delivered to space,” wrote SpaceX in the filing, “Starship/Super Heavy will allow scientists to focus on previously impossible scientific missions and pursue the fastest, easiest way to get their missions from concept to execution by eliminating the need to miniaturize, reduce mass, and create a system of deployments to fit in smaller launch vehicles. For instance, with its large capacity, Starship could economically put large telescopes and heavy science experiments in orbit, and cargo, people, and even colonies on moons and other planets. In fact, NASA chose Starship as its lunar lander in the upcoming Artemis program. This means that Starship will transport crew members from lunar orbit to and from the surface of the Moon,” wrote SpaceX in the document requesting to join the FAA as co-defendant. SpaceX has a NASA contract to return astronauts to the Moon by 2025 with a lunar-optimized Starship known as Human Landing System (HLS). Further, SpaceX noted that it has spent over 7 years and invested more than $3 Billion in developing the Boca Chica launch facility for Starship operations.
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.