Conservation groups have sued the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), challenging its approval of Elon Musk’s expanded SpaceX rocket launch next to a national wildlife refuge in south Texas without examining the need for additional environmental protections.
The suit, filed Monday, follows the April 20 test flight of SpaceX’s next-generation rocket, which ended with the spacecraft’s explosion over the Gulf of Mexico.
There were no reports of injuries or serious damage to public property caused by missile debris or flying pillow debris. But large pieces of concrete, stainless steel sheets, metal and other objects were thrown hundreds of meters from the launch pad, and a column of pulverized concrete also sent material up to 6 kilometers (4 miles) northwest of the US launch site. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reported last week.
“Today’s lawsuit argues that the agency’s proposed mitigation is not sufficient to prevent the release program from causing significant environmental harm,” the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement.
“Federal officials must not lose sight of the interests of corporations that want to use cherished coastal landscapes as a dumping ground for wasted space,” said Jared Margolis, senior counsel at the center, who is one of five plaintiffs in the case, defending nearby communities and wildlife.
The plaintiffs are asking the US District Court for the District of Columbia to overturn the FAA’s decision to grant SpaceX a vehicle operator’s license and force the agency to re-analyze the environmental impact of the launch site.
The SpaceX spacecraft climbed 39 kilometers (24 miles) before it exploded on April 20 – the latest in a series of at least nine crashes at the Boca Chica, Texas, site in recent years.
The missile’s self-destruct system caused the 120-meter (400 ft) long missile to explode, spinning out of control only minutes into the test flight. The shattering force of the launch sent chunks of reinforced concrete and metal fragments thousands of feet from the site, next to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, near Boca Chica Park and Beach.
The blast also ignited a 1.4-hectare (3.5-acre) fire and sent a cloud of crushed concrete that drifted 10.5 kilometers (6.5 miles) to the northwest and rained down on the mudflats and the nearby town of Port Isabel, according to the FWS. .
SpaceX hailed the launch as a qualified success that will provide valuable data to advance the development of space rockets and ultra-heavyweights, two key components of NASA’s new Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon.
An FAA spokesperson said the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation as a matter of policy. There was no immediate word on this from SpaceX.
Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of the California-based company, came under fire from environmentalists during remarks at Saturday’s event, saying the debris scattered by the spacecraft launch was a “man-made sandstorm.”
He said, “It’s not toxic at all or anything.”
“It caused a lot of dust, but as far as we know there was no appreciable damage to the environment as we know it.”