Environmental groups have taken legal action against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) following SpaceX’s Starship test flight last month. The groups alleged that the FAA failed to adequately assess the environmental impact of Starship’s test flight, which took place at SpaceX’s Starbase, Texas site on April 20.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tempered expectations prior to Starship’s test flight, noting that he would consider the mission a success if the rocket cleared the launch pad. It did, though SpaceX opted to terminate the mission minutes into Starship’s flight after the rocket’s first and second stages failed to separate. The aftermath of Starship’s launch was quite dramatic, with the rocket damaging a significant portion of its launch area.
Filed on Monday in a federal court in Washington, DC, the lawsuit argued that the FAA authorized the Starship launch without fully complying with federal environmental law. The suit also claimed that the agency failed to analyze the Starship launch’s environmental and community impacts, including damage to essential migratory bird habitats.
SpaceX is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The area surrounding the launch site is home to several federally protected species, including the endangered ocelot. Jared Margolis, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, stated the importance of protecting life on Earth even as we explore space. “It’s vital that we protect life on Earth even as we look to the stars in this modern era of spaceflight,” the attorney said.
Prior to the dramatic test flight, the FAA issued a finding stating that the launch would have no significant impact on the surrounding environment, as noted in a CNN report. Margolis noted that the events that transpired as Starship cleared its launch pad showed that the FAA’s decision was flawed.
“They just proved our point here. 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,” Margolis said.
The FAA is currently overseeing an investigation into Starship’s test flight. Such investigations are routine and have occurred after previous, albeit smaller-scale, Starship launches in Starbase. The FAA noted that the review “will determine the root cause of the event and identify corrective actions the operator must implement to avoid a recurrence.”
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk remains optimistic about the company’s readiness to launch another Starship within the coming months. Addressing concerns over potential environmental damage to the area, Musk noted during a Twitter Spaces session that there had been no meaningful harm to the environment resulting from Starship’s test flight. The SpaceX CEO also predicted that Starship could be ready for another test flight in six to eight weeks.
The environmental groups’ lawsuit against the FAA can be viewed below.