SpaceX set to join FAA in fighting environmental lawsuits against Starship

An aerial view of a Starship prototype stacked on top of a Super Heavy booster at the company’s Starbase facility outside of Brownsville, Texas.


Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to join the Federal Aviation Administration as a co-defendant to fight a lawsuit filed by environmental groups over the company’s first test flight Starship, the world’s largest rocket. world, which ended in a mid-air explosion last month.

In a petition filed In court Friday, SpaceX asked federal judge Carl Nichols to allow the company to join the FAA as a defendant against environmental and cultural nonprofit groups that sued the aerospace regulator earlier this month.

The plaintiffs “do not object” to the company’s intervention, according to the filings. Jared Margolis, lead attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity and lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said it was “normal and expected for the plaintiff to intervene in a matter where his license is at issue.”

The groups suing the FAA have alleged that the agency should have conducted a more thorough environmental study of the likely impacts of SpaceX’s activity before allowing the company to launch the world’s largest rocket, Starship, from its installation. Starbase, a spaceport on the Gulf Coast. near Brownsville, Texas.

The groups also alleged that the “mitigations” the agency required of SpaceX were not sufficient to avoid “significant adverse effects” on endangered species, their habitat and the tribes in the region who count the land. and sacred fauna.

Friday’s SpaceX filing outlines the potential consequences for the company if the environmentalists win the lawsuit, noting the implications for its business and finances – as well as the argument that there would be damage to the “substantial national interest”. and the possible scientific benefits of Starship.

“If the Court were to rule in favor of plaintiffs, the FAA’s decision could be overturned and the pursuit of Starship/Super Heavy program licenses could be significantly delayed, causing severe damage to SpaceX’s business,” the company wrote.

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The lawsuit asks the FAA to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) — a lengthy and thorough process that would likely sideline SpaceX’s work on Starship in Texas for years.

The company also has wrote in the motion that “the FAA does not adequately represent the interests of SpaceX” in the lawsuit, since it is a government agency. He noted that the FAA “has a direct and substantial economic interest in the outcome of this matter which the government does not share.”

The FAA, in a statement to CNBC, said it “does not comment on ongoing litigation issues.”

In-game for SpaceX

Starship is also crucial to the future of the company’s Starlink satellite internet business, which has more than 1.5 million customers. Johnsen noted that “SpaceX has invested billions of dollars in Starlink” to date.

Musk has previously highlighted the interdependence of these two companies, with Johnsen further reiterating that SpaceX needs to fly in Starship to launch its second generation, or “V2,” Starlink satellites.

“Without Starship…not only will SpaceX be financially harmed by its inability to launch v.2 satellites, but hundreds of thousands of people…are waiting for the Starlink constellation to be upgraded and able to serve them,” Johnsen wrote.

Finally, Johnsen noted that losing the lawsuit would force the company to “significantly reduce” investment in its Starbase facility, which would hurt its interests, as well as local employees and communities.

First Launch Fallout

Debris litters the launch pad and damaged fuel tanks (rear R) April 22, 2023, after the SpaceX Starship lifted off April 20 for a test flight from Starbase Boca Chica, Texas.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

Starship’s dramatic and explosive first launch saw the company achieve several milestones for the nearly 400-foot-tall rocket, which flew for more than three minutes. But it also lost multiple engines during launch, caused severe damage to ground infrastructure, and ultimately failed to reach space after the rocket began to fall and was intentionally destroyed in mid-air. .

SpaceX is cleaning up damage to the launch site, which cratered the ground and shattered debris in the tower, nearby tanks and other equipment on the ground. The launch also created a plume of dust and sand, with particles reported up to six miles from the launch pad.

The test flight also started a 3.5 acre forest fire.

Phil Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida Research School, studies the substance from particle samples. He thinks “SpaceX dodged a bullet” with the launch, telling CNBC the amount of “concrete blowing” could have destroyed the rocket on the launch pad.

“It could have been a lot worse than it was. I think they made a mistake taking a risk and throwing the [concrete] surface, trying to do it that way once. But it was like a 70% success. They cleaned the tower, tested their first stage, got a lot of good data, found an issue with the staging, and hopefully can fix it and have a better result in the next test,” Metzger said.

Metzger did not assess the ecological impacts of debris from the launch pad and the rocket explosion on endangered species that live and migrate in the area. The Texas Regional Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and independent researchers are among those studying the environmental impacts of the Starship’s test flight and explosion.

SpaceX’s motion also explained why Starship is ultimately beneficial to science endeavours. The company wrote that the rocket’s unprecedented capabilities “will allow scientists to focus on previously impossible science missions and seek the fastest, easiest way to take their missions from concept to execution.”

“For example, with its large capacity, Starship could economically orbit large telescopes and heavy science experiments, as well as cargo, people, and even colonies on moons and other planets,” SpaceX wrote. .

Read the company’s filing to establish itself as a defendant alongside the FAA:


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