U.S environmental groups sue FAA over SpaceX’s explosive launch

Nonprofits allege that Elon Musk's SpaceX launch program violated federal environmental laws.
Sejal Sharma
SpaceX's April 20 rocket launch exploded shortly after take-off
SpaceX's April 20 rocket launch exploded shortly after take-off

The Washington Post/Getty Images 

SpaceX’s April 20 launch ended in an explosion minutes after it lifted off and saw massive amounts of debris fall back on Earth. Now, a group of environment and cultural heritage nonprofits are alleging that the launch program violated federal environmental laws and are demanding that stringent actions be taken.

They have sued the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has the federal authority on the launch of vehicles into space, for failing to carry out a comprehensive environmental and communal review ahead of Elon Musk’s Starship rocket launch.

Will regulators hold powerful corporations accountable?

The five plaintiffs - Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, Save RGV, and The Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, Inc - have declared that the lawsuit is also a test of whether regulators will hold powerful corporations accountable or allow them to disregard environmental laws because of their political and financial influence.

Some of the implications of the explosion include the destruction of vital migratory bird habitats in North America, the scattering of sand, ash, and concrete outside the areas that the FAA had previously considered, and bush/forest fires. Apart from the noise, light, and heat pollution generated by the blast, the debris has adversely affected the surrounding habitat areas and communities, which is a biologically diverse habitat for many species, including some endangered species which are sacred to the Carrizo/Comecrudo People, alleges the complaint.

The plaintiffs are also demanding that the FAA revoke SpaceX’s launch license, which allows Elon Musk to launch 20 Starship/Super Heavy per year over the next five years, and instead ask the company for an in-depth environmental impact statement (EIS). 

EIS, under the United States environmental laws, is a document that outlines the impact of a proposed project on its surrounding environment. These statements are mandatory for certain projects.

Interesting Engineering had previously reported on the launch failure in South Texas. Three minutes after the liftoff on April 20, the Starship upper stage failed to separate from the Super Heavy first stage and the full stack started to spiral and turn over on itself before finally exploding in a ball of flames.

The Super Heavy is one of the world’s most powerful rockets to exist. It holds up to 3,700 metric tons of liquid methane for propulsion and vents large amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

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