Conservation groups sue U.S. regulator over SpaceX launches

U.S. conservation groups on Monday announced they are suing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for not doing enough to protect the environment from SpaceX’s Starship program.

The move came after the world’s most powerful rocket exploded on its first integrated test flight, just four minutes after launching from Boca Chica, Texas on April 20.

SpaceX video showed a hail of debris being blasted as far as the Gulf of Mexico, over 1,400 feet (425 meters) away, while a cloud of dust floated over a small town several miles (kilometers) away.

The launch site also sits next to a vital habitat for protected species, including Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and the piping plover bird, according to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which was among the groups that filed the lawsuit.

The FAA awarded SpaceX a license to launch 20 Starships a year for five years, while requiring Elon Musk’s company carry out monitoring of vegetation and wildlife by a qualified biologist, including conducting a pre- and post-launch survey.

But these mitigation measures are not enough, according to the conservation groups, who are calling for a full environmental review.

“It’s vital that we protect life on Earth even as we look to the stars in this modern era of spaceflight,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the CBD, in a statement.

“Federal officials should defend vulnerable wildlife and frontline communities, not give a pass to corporate interests that want to use treasured coastal landscapes as a dumping ground for space waste.”

Closures of Boca Chica Beach also adversely impact the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation’s ability to hold traditional ceremonies on their sacred lands, added the statement. The Indigenous group is a part of the lawsuit.

The test flight caused a fire of about 3.5 acres (1.5 hectares) in Boca Chica State Park, south of the launch pad, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But the agency added: “At this time, no dead birds or wildlife have been found on refuge-owned or managed lands.”

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