FAA Hit With Lawsuit Over SpaceX's Explosive Starship Launch

SpaceX's Starship launch test in April ended up in a fiery explosion even though the Elon Musk-led company called it a success. In the wake of the test, debris and ashy sand-like particulate matter were found scattered across a larger area than previously anticipated, and the nearby wildlife area even caught on fire. Adding more to its troubles, the Federal Aviation Administration is now facing a lawsuit from environmental and heritage groups over alleged regulatory violations caused by giving its go-ahead for the launch to SpaceX. The FAA and SpaceX are yet to issue an official statement regarding the lawsuit. 

Filed in a district court in Washington D.C, the plaintiffs' lawsuit — American Bird Conservancy and SurfRider Foundation, among others — argues that the FAA should have conducted an in-depth assessment in collaboration with local stakeholders before greenlighting SpaceX's request. The lawsuit claims that the Starship launch led to the "destruction of some of the most vital migratory bird habitat in North America," considering the fact that the area surrounding SpaceX's test facility in Boca Chica is also home to protected wildlife and animal species such as the ocelot, which is classified as critically endangered.

Fiery test, ferocious aftermath

The lawsuit targets the FAA and claims that despite having knowledge of "anomalies," the agency failed to ensure that the harms would be controlled. The aviation control body is also said to have violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) over its failure to address alternatives like reducing the number of launch events that it approves or alternating between different launch sites. The complaint highlights how the FAA allegedly failed to look at multiple risk scenarios, such as light, heat, and atmospheric pollution, alongside habitat destruction, biodiversity damage, and a high potential for igniting wildfires.

According to an assessment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited in a Reuters report, the Starship launch test "ignited a 3.5-acre (1.4-hectare) brush fire and sent a cloud of pulverized concrete drifting 6.5 miles (10.5 km) to the northwest." The lawsuit, which also invokes the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) over alleged FAA lapses, claims that the agency's conduct was "arbitrary and capricious" and that it should furnish a fresh environmental impact statement (EIS) pursuant to its approvals after doing a sub-par job in the immediate past that allowed SpaceX to go ahead with its controversial Starship test.