While SpaceX completed the first fully integrated flight test for its Starship vehicle in April, the event wasn’t exactly a complete success. The company blew up the spacecraft on the launch pad due to a separation failure, and that caused debris to shoot out across hundreds of acres of land that contained sensitive habitats. It also started a 3.5-acre fire on state park land. In response, environmental and wildlife nonprofit groups filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), accusing the agency of failing to assess the Starship program’s environmental impact around SpaceX’s Texas launch site in Boca Chica. And now, SpaceX has filed a motion in court, requesting to be allowed to join the agency as a defendant.
If you’ll recall, the groups suing the FAA claimed that the agency had violated the National Environment Policy Act when it allowed SpaceX to launch its super heavy-lift vehicle without conducting an environmental impact statement (EIS) assessment. The FAA did conduct an environmental review of SpaceX’s launch site and asked SpaceX to make more than 75 changes, but it didn’t push through with an EIS assessment, which is a much more involved and in-depth process that could take years to finish.
In its motion, SpaceX detailed the lawsuit’s potential impact on the company. The plaintiffs, after all, are requesting for its launch license to be revoked and for the FAA to push through with an EIS assessment. SpaceX said “further licensing of the Starship/Super Heavy Program could be significantly delayed” by the lawsuit, which could also damage “substantial national interest.” SpaceX has existing contracts with NASA and the military, and a Starship variant is expected to take Americans to the moon.
The company also argued that the FAA “does not adequately represent [its] interests,” so it has to step in and defend itself. According to the CNBC, the plaintiffs aren’t opposed to SpaceX joining the fray, as it is “standard and expected for the applicant to intervene in a case where their permit is at issue.”
During a subscriber-only Twitter chat over the weekend, company chief Elon Musk reportedly said regarding the explosion: “To the best of our knowledge there has not been any meaningful damage to the environment that we’re aware of.” SpaceX has been preparing for more tests before Starship’s next launch attempt and recently rolled out the vehicle’s latest prototype to a suborbital pad at Starbase in Texas for an upcoming static fire test.