A collection of environmental groups is suing the FAA, claiming the agency failed to protect the environment from SpaceX’s Super Heavy test launch in Boca Chica, Texas, on April 20. The suit, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, alleges the agency didn’t fully assess the effects on the environment in issuing a launch license, which was the first attempt to launch the full system that is eventually intended to take astronauts to Mars. The FAA and Acting Administrator Billy Nolen are named in the suit but SpaceX is not. It demands an immediate halt to launches until environmental impacts can be effectively mitigated.
In the suit’s introduction, the plaintiffs pose the philosophical question of what price the environment should pay for humankind’s pursuit of space exploration. “We must decide whether we will protect the wildlife and frontline communities that can be adversely affected by our desire to reach the stars or whether we will leave a legacy of needless destruction in the scorching wake of rocket plumes,” the introduction says. It also alleges the FAA ignored “bedrock environmental law” in allowing the launch, which it claims, among other impacts, destroyed “some of the most vital migratory bird habitat in North America.”
The launch of the 390-foot rocket system, which uses 33 engines, blew the launch pad to pieces and created a huge plume of dust and debris before it was intentionally blown up over the Gulf of Mexico when the second stage failed to separate. The airborne particles spread at least 6 miles to nearby Port Isabel and South Padre Island. Between the launch site and the town are home to a variety of protected species. Besides the actual launches, the suit claims damages are caused by the increased traffic and continuous construction at the site.