Environmental groups sue FAA over SpaceX Starship rocket launch

SpaceX Starship rocket launched last month, exploded minutes later

Environmental and wildlife groups sued the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday after the historic launch of the SpaceX Starship rocket last month in southern Texas. 

The national and local environmental groups and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas Inc. alleged that the agency had failed to fully analyze and mitigate the environmental harms resulting from the program at Boca Chica. 

Since the explosion of the rocket – with pieces falling into the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Texas has released details of surrounding impacts, including a 3.5-acre fire, raining dust and scattered debris. 

It said no animals or people had been harmed in the launch.


Metal debris at the Starship launch site

Debris litters the ground on April 22, 2023, after the SpaceX Starship lifted off on April 20 for a flight test from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas. ((Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images) / Getty Images)

The Starships – the largest rockets ever made – have since been grounded.

The environmental groups, in a joint release, said the launch site is located next to protected species and migratory birds, like the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and the piping plover, and that the FAA had decided to forego a full environmental review due to proposed mitigation measures – measures that these groups say aren't enough to prevent the launch program from causing "significant environmental harm." 

The statement from the plaintiffs claimed that the FAA had not yet explained how the mitigation would address and prevent rocket explosions and fires, saying the lawsuit filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., calls for a full environmental analysis.

The launch site is surrounded by state parks and National Wildlife Refuge lands

SpaceX's Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket explodes

SpaceX's Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket explodes after launch from Starbase on April 20, 2023.  ((Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images) / Getty Images)


In addition, it said operations there have a significant impact on the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation’s ability to hold traditional ceremonies and leave offerings for their ancestors and that the agency had failed to fully consider climate-related harms of fueling rockets with liquid methane. They asked the court to throw out the five-year license the FAA granted to SpaceX.

"It’s vital that we protect life on Earth even as we look to the stars in this modern era of spaceflight," Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said 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.

The FAA told FOX Business in an email on Tuesday that it "does not comment on ongoing litigation matters."

Twitter CEO Elon Musk speaks

Twitter CEO Elon Musk speaks at the "Twitter 2.0: From Conversations to Partnerships," marketing conference in Miami Beach, Florida, on April 18, 2023. ((Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images) / Getty Images)

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said the company could be ready to launch the next Starship in six to eight weeks with a pass from the FAA.


"To the best of our knowledge there has not been any meaningful damage to the environment that we’re aware of," Musk said over the weekend.

Ahead of the launch, the FAA previously said SpaceX met all requirements, including safety and environmental.

"We carefully analyzed the public safety risks during every stage of the mission and required SpaceX to mitigate those risks," it said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.