U.S. environmental groups on Monday sued the Federal Aviation Administration, alleging the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it allowed SpaceX to launch its Starship rocket.
The five plaintiffs are Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, Save RGV, and The Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, Inc.
SpaceX Starship was the largest and most powerful rocket to be flown when it was launched on April 20th. The rocket severely damaged the launchpad and later exploded.
“The launch pad was destroyed, scattering debris and ashes over a large area, including adjacent lands that provide habitat for endangered species,” read the complaint.
According to the groups, the agency relied on a programmatic environmental assessment conducted by SpaceX that was inadequate: the proposed mitigation measures do not prevent the launch program from committing environmental harm. The agency also did not consider alternative solutions, like authorising fewer launches per year, said the group, referring to future launches SpaceX has planned.
“FAA failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the SpaceX launch program, as NEPA requires, including increased light, heat, and environmental pollution, as well as risk of wildfires, damage to critical habitat, and the launch program’s contribution to climate change,” read the complaint.
The plaintiffs are seeking to force the FAA to revoke the launch license they issued to SpaceX and require a more thorough environmental impact statement.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk explained that he did not think there was meaningful fallout from the launch. “To the best of our knowledge there has not been any meaningful damage to the environment that we’re aware of,” he said, as quoted by NBC.
The launchpad being damaged was not anticipated by Musk. “One of the more plausible explanations is that…we may have compressed the sand underneath the concrete to such a degree that the concrete effectively bent and then cracked,” Musk said.
A report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the launch flung concrete and metal thousands of feet away and created a cloud of dust and pulverized concrete that descended as far as 6.5 miles from the launchpad.