Extensive Starship damage left wildlife officials 'stunned'

The Starship explosion "was so extensive it sent concrete chunks flying into the surf."
Chris Young
Starship during the first test flight.
Starship during the first test flight.

SpaceX / X 

Though SpaceX's massive Starship rocket exploded following a manual termination a few minutes into its first test flight in April, the launch arguably caused more damage on the launch pad.

The massive power of the Starship first stage's 33 Raptor engines at launch blew a crater in the launch pad at SpaceX's Starbase facility.

It also spread potentially harmful debris far and wide, leading a group of environmental activists to file a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for its role in greenlighting the launch.

Now, according to a report from Bloomberg, wildlife officials in the area were left stunned by the launch's impact, and some say they were prevented from investigating parts of the debris field.

Starship's "extensive" debris field

Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) documents obtained by Bloomberg reportedly show that chunks of the launchpad were found as far as half a mile away after the first Starship test flight.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Chris Perez, a biologist at the FWS, explained that "the explosion [at launch] was so extensive it sent concrete chunks flying into the surf."

The FWS documents explain that the debris field measured roughly 385 acres across (approximately 1.5 square kilometers) and was riddled with craters. A fire also spread within the debris field, killing local wildlife.

FWS officials also noted that they weren't allowed on a beach on the site at one point. A senior SpaceX employee explained this was because the group was surveying the hazardous area.

It is now well known that SpaceX decided to launch Starship's first test flight without a water deluge system and flame trench in place that would have prevented much of the damage to the launch pad and the resulting debris impact.

SpaceX has installed these systems for its second test flight — as seen in the Super Heavy booster engine test footage above — though the ongoing investigation into the first launch could delay that flight.

Elon Musk says Starship could "soon" fly again

According to the Bloomberg report, Musk was "pretty confident" before the first test flight that the launchpad wouldn't need a flame trench. However, he and his team miscalculated the impact of Starship on the launchpad.

As such, Starship's launchpad "was totally destroyed and will likely force them to re-design the whole thing," Perez wrote in an email obtained by Bloomberg to a US Department of Interior attorney. "Probably won't see another launch for a while," he added.

Now, Starship is grounded by the FAA as it conducts a "mishap investigation" into the massive rocket's first test flight.

The environmental lawsuit could further delay matters. SpaceX has asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed, though the group behind the lawsuit argues that Starship could leave a "legacy of needless destruction in the scorching wake of rocket plumes."

Elon Musk recently stated that Starship will launch again soon — and SpaceX has shown off several modifications to the rocket — but the launch date for the second test flight isn't completely in SpaceX's hands.

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