SpaceX claims Starship poses no threat to wildlife, seeks dismissal of environmental lawsuit

An environmental group argues Starship could leave a 'legacy of needless destruction in the scorching wake of rocket plumes.'
Chris Young
Starship during its first test flight.
Starship during its first test flight.

SpaceX / Twitter 

SpaceX's first Starship orbital launch attempt ended in a dramatic explosion that spread potentially harmful debris far and wide. It also resulted in a 3.5-acre fire on state park land.

Soon after the first flight of the massive Mars rocket on April 20, a group of environmental activists filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). In their lawsuit, they accuse the government agency of failing in its duty of properly assessing the potential environmental impact of Starship.

Now, in a new filing submitted to the FAA on Thursday, July 6, SpaceX asked that a federal court dismiss the complaint and also denied the allegations that Starship poses a threat to the surrounding wildlife habitat in Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX's Starbase facility is located.

SpaceX asks for dismissal of environmental lawsuit

In the new filing, SpaceX argued that the environmental group lacks legal grounds for its claims, though it does admit to problems with the first launch.

"SpaceX admits that the concrete launch pad deck was damaged during the liftoff, spreading some debris and dust," the company wrote in its filing. "The FAA is currently evaluating data related to this launch."

SpaceX's launch site in Boca Chica is surrounded by a wildlife habitat that is home to a number of endangered species, including ocelots and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles.

The environmental group, made up of the Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy, and others, alleges that the FAA rushed the Starship certification process, and didn't adequately assess the damage the massive rocket could cause to local ecosystems.

It also claims the agency violated the National Environment Policy Act by allowing SpaceX to launch Starship without first completing an environmental impact statement (EIS) assessment.

In its complaint filed against the FAA on May 1, the environmental group wrote: "As the Nation carries out the modern era of spaceflight, we must decide whether we will protect the wildlife and frontline communities that can be adversely affected by our desire to reach the stars, or whether we will leave a legacy of needless destruction in the scorching wake of rocket plumes."

The FAA stands in the way of second Starship launch

Soon after the group filed its complaint, SpaceX filed a motion asking to become a co-defendant in the lawsuit. The company argued it should be involved as the future of its key Starship program was at stake.

SpaceX wrote in its motion that "further licensing of the Starship/Super Heavy Program could be significantly delayed" by the lawsuit.

This, Elon Musk's space company argued, would have a negative effect on "substantial national interest." It specifically cited several time-sensitive contractual obligations, including the development of a modified lunar lander Starship upper stage for NASA's Artemis III mission, scheduled for 2025 or 2026.

Elon Musk has recently suggested that Starship could fly again within roughly two months' time. However, SpaceX is reliant on the FAA giving it the green light for the second launch. Given the ongoing environmental lawsuit, things may not be quite as simple this time.

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