SpaceX's second Starship launch could be 'significantly delayed' by environmental lawsuit

SpaceX has asked to be allowed to join the FAA as a defendant, citing the potential negative impact on national interests.
Chris Young
Starship taking to the skies on April 20.
Starship taking to the skies on April 20.

SpaceX / Twittter 

Though SpaceX has emphasized that it sees the first fully integrated flight test of Starship as a success, skeptics have pointed to the cloud of potentially harmful debris caused by the Mars rocket's programmed explosion, as well as the massive crater it blasted into the ground at launch.

The first Starship launch, on April 20, also started a 3.5-acre fire on state park land, a report from Engadget points out.

Environmental and wildlife nonprofit groups have subsequently filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), accusing the agency of failing in its duty of properly assessing the potential environmental impact of Starship.

SpaceX could join the FAA as a defendant in court

SpaceX isn't happy to be left out of proceedings and it has recently filed a motion in court requesting to be allowed to join the FAA as a defendant, CNBC reports.

In its motion, SpaceX stated that the lawsuit could have a massive impact on the company, and it should therefore be involved. The plaintiffs are requesting for SpaceX's Starship launch license to be revoked among a number of other demands.

The groups suing the FAA claimed the agency violated the National Environment Policy Act by allowing SpaceX to launch Starship without first completing an environmental impact statement (EIS) assessment.

The FAA did conduct a thorough environmental review, which was formally completed last year. On the back of it, SpaceX was asked to make more than 75 changes before it would be allowed to launch its super-heavy rocket.

However, the FAA didn't push for SpaceX to complete an EIS assessment, which could potentially have taken years to complete. The environmental group's lawsuit is now asking for the FAA to require an EIS assessment before the Starship launch system can fly again.

SpaceX: Environmental lawsuit could negatively impact national interest

In its motion, SpaceX wrote that "further licensing of the Starship/Super Heavy Program could be significantly delayed" by the lawsuit. This, the private space firm argues, would have a negative effect on "substantial national interest."

SpaceX has several time-sensitive contractual obligations, including the development of a modified lunar lander Starship upper stage for NASA's Artemis III mission, which is currently scheduled to take humans back to the lunar surface by 2025 or 2026.

SpaceX also argued that the FAA "does not adequately represent [its] interests," so it should be allowed to defend itself in court.

Despite the ongoing lawsuit, SpaceX continues to prepare for the second launch of its massive Starship rocket. The company recently posted a video on Twitter of a Raptor engine firing into a water-cooled steel plate as part of a test for a system that was designed to mitigate damage on the launch pad. Last week, it also sent one of its Starship upper-stage prototypes to a suborbital pad for a "static fire" engine test.

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