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Environment raised into question from SpaceX launch, lawsuit lingers

Environment SpaceX made a risk last month when it launched its massive Starship rocket, which lifted off but did not reach space.

While it was a significant achievement for the company, it was not shared by everyone.

Environmental groups, for example, have taken action by filing a federal lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration.

The groups claim that the agency failed to sufficiently assess the potential harm or catastrophes to the surrounding environment caused by the launch.

The rocket was touted as the most powerful ever built.

It launched out from a launch pad at a private SpaceX spaceport in South Texas on April 20.

It exploded four minutes into the flight over the Gulf of Mexico.

The lawsuit

The complaint was filed in a federal court in Washington, DC on Monday.

It argued that the FAA authorized the launch in contravention of federal environmental law.

The program’s debut was also allowed without taking into account the program’s significant environmental and community impact, which includes the destruction of some vital migratory bird habitats. 

According to the complaint, the area around the launch includes vital habitat for federally protected creatures such as the endangered ocelot.

Jared Margolis, senior counsel of the Center for Biological Diversity, published a statement saying:

“It’s vital that we protect life on Earth even as we look to the stars in this modern era of spaceflight.”

Environmental damage

The FAA assessed that the launch on April 20 would have no substantial impact on the surrounding environment.

As a result, the government avoided doing a comprehensive environmental evaluation, which would have taken more time.

The SpaceX tragedy, according to Margolis, validates the group’s legal contention that the FAA made an error in its assessment.

“They just proved our point here,” said the attorney. “What ended up occurring was exactly what we expected.”

“There’s all kinds of environmental harm that’s clearly an issue and needs to be fully considered, and they didn’t consider it.”

Environmental groups challenging the FAA hope that the agency will return and do a more complete environmental assessment of the launch’s impact.

A more comprehensive FAA probe, according to Margolis, may have shown that SpaceX required more water to cool their launch pad, which exploded.

Even if the launches do not result in an explosion, the attorney claims that they imperil bird species that utilize the area for migratory routes.

“It’s an incredibly important area for birds,” he said.

“There’s an incredible amount of heat and light from the launches even when they don’t go wrong.”

Margolis went on to say that the impact of scattered debris isn’t over yet.

Environmental groups are afraid that heavy gear used to gather up residual metal and concrete would harm animals.

“You have so much [debris] in the area that recovering it could cause even more damage,” said Margolis.

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Commercial rocket launch permits are handled by the FAA.

After more than a year of back-and-forth, it granted SpaceX permission to launch.

The FAA is also in charge of examining the failed flight test of the Starship last month.

While this is not uncommon, it occurred following a smaller-scale Starship test launch in South Texas.

According to an emailed statement from the FAA, the research will determine the underlying cause of the explosion and identify corrective actions SpaceX should take to avoid a similar incident in the future.

Simultaneously, the FAA is creating an “anomaly response plan” in response to the FAA’s Programmatic Environmental Assessment of Starship in 2022.

“SpaceX is responsible for its implementation and for local, state, and federal compliance requirements,” said FAA spokesperson Steve Kulm.

Kulm was questioned if the FAA could confirm whether debris had arrived in unexpected places.

He claimed that Cameron County issued a statement in response to all of the dust concerns directed towards SpaceX.


Elon Musk went live on Twitter Spaces on Saturday evening, saying he believes SpaceX will be ready to launch another Starship.

Another test flight is scheduled over the following six to eight weeks in terms of technology.

Musk sounded belligerent when asked about the likelihood of legal action from environmental organizations.

“Look at an aerial picture of the area and – apart from the area around the launch stand – tell me where things are damaged,” he said.

“I think you can’t even see it at this point.”

“To the best of our knowledge, there has not been any meaningful damage to the environment.”

Opinions expressed by US Business News contributors are their own.