Environmental and cultural heritage organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the US government’s transportation agency responsible for regulating civil aviation, over allegations that it permitted SpaceX to launch a rocket without conducting a thorough environmental assessment.
Elon Musk-owned-SpaceX launched the world’s most powerful rocket, but it exploded on its first integrated test flight. The blast occurred just four minutes after launching from Boca Chica, Texas on April 20.
SpaceX shared a video of the moment its Starship Super Heavy exploded and the residents in Port Isabel, Texas, shared their experiences and aftereffects on social media as sand dust coated the city.
Videos were shared showing debris being blasted as far as the Gulf of Mexico, over 1,400 feet (425 metres) away, while a cloud of dust floated over a small town several miles (kilometres) away.
The court filings obtained by CNBC showed that the lawsuit against the FAA was filed in a district court in Washington DC on Monday.
The plaintiffs included: The Center for Biological Diversity, the American Bird Conservancy, SurfRider Foundation, Save Rio Grande Valley (Save RGV) and a cultural heritage organization, the Carrizo-Comecrudo Nation of Texas.
As quoted by the US-based news outlet, they wrote, “The FAA failed to take the requisite hard look at the proposed project and has concluded that significant adverse effects will not occur due to purported mitigation measures.”
The SpaceX Starship explosion had spread particulate matter for miles as researchers were rushed to assess environmental and health impacts.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has said that the site from where the rocket was launched is also closer to vital habitat for protected species, including Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and the piping plover bird. CBD is among the groups that filed the lawsuit.
Concerns have been raised as the FAA awarded SpaceX a license to launch 20 Starships a year for five years. Musk’s company is requited to carry out monitoring of vegetation and wildlife by a qualified biologist, including conducting a pre- and post-launch survey.
These groups have said that these measures are not enough and there’s an urgent need for a full environmental review.
Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the CBD said in a statement, “It’s vital that we protect life on Earth even as we look to the stars in this modern era of spaceflight.”
“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,” Margolis added.