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Environmentalists Sue FAA Over SpaceX Starship Launch License

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Mon May 01 2023Written by Zac Aubert

A coalition of environmental groups and a Native American tribe have filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over its approval of SpaceX's next-generation Starship rocket test launch.

The group claims that the FAA was too hasty in approving the southern Texas launch site, which is located near a sensitive wildlife area. The complaint was filed on Monday in federal court in Washington, DC and seeks to have SpaceX's license revoked until a comprehensive environmental review is conducted by the FAA

The lawsuit comes just 11 days since SpaceX launched Starship on its first Integrated Flight Test which ended in a semi-controlled flight termination explosion over the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the lawsuit, the April 20 launch is just one of nine explosive mishaps that have occurred at Boca Chica in recent years. These incidents are causing significant disruptions to the habitat of federally protected wildlife and migratory birds.

Credit: Zac Aubert | TLP Network

The disturbances include intense noise and light pollution, construction, and road traffic, which are all contributing to the degradation of the area. The Boca Chica region is home to several endangered feline predators, including the ocelot and jaguarundi, as well as nesting sites for the endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle and critical habitat for the piping plover, a threatened shorebird. The area and its wildlife are also considered sacred to the indigenous people of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation in South Texas.

Following Starship's Integrated Flight Test, a cloud of pulverized concrete, steel chunks, and other debris was scattered over a distance of more than six miles from the Boca Chica launch pad site. The launch also caused a 3.5-acre fire nearby, which was later extinguished. The debris landed both on SpaceX's property and an adjacent state park, which borders the Rio Grande Valley and the Gulf of Mexico.

Credit: SpaceX

The plaintiffs argue that the FAA violated federal law by allowing expanded operations at SpaceX's Starbase in Boca Chica without mandating the full environmental impact study (EIS) usually required for major projects.

The FAA released a short and clear statement to The Launch Pad

"The FAA does not comment on ongoing litigation matters."

Elon Musk and SpaceX have called the launch a qualified success, that yielded valuable data that will allow them to advance development of Starship.

This is a developing story and will be update as more details become avaiable.