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A Rough Rocket Ride

FAA sued by environmental groups over SpaceX launch

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Monday against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), alleging the agency broke federal conservation acts when it allowed the launch of SpaceX's Starship rocket last month.

The lawsuit, filed in Washington, D.C., district court, alleges that the FAA did not conduct an in-depth environmental study on the potential effects of the rocket — the heaviest ever assembled. The launch, which took place in Boca Chica, Texas, on April 20, resulted in the explosion of Starship. While the ship was unmanned, the explosion caused concrete, metal, and debris to be spewed thousands of feet into environmentally protected areas. A 3.5-acre fire also broke out in a nearby state park as a result, CNBC reported. 

The FAA allegedly authorized the Starship launch "without complying with bedrock federal environmental law, without fully analyzing the significant environmental and community impacts of the Space X launch program — including destruction of some of the most vital migratory bird habitat in North America — and without requiring mitigation sufficient to offset those impacts," the lawsuit wrote. The suit also notes that the area around the launch site is home to environmentally protected species such as ocelots. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five environmental groups. One of them, the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement it was "vital that we protect life on Earth even as we look to the stars in this modern era of spaceflight."

The FAA had conducted a less-stringent study prior to the launch, but reported that Starship would have no impact on the environment. SpaceX founder Elon Musk also said after the explosion there had "not been any meaningful damage to the environment." This is despite Musk previously calling Starship "a box of grenades" that would probably explode. 

The FAA has not commented on the lawsuit.