Federal agency embroiled in environmental controversy over Starship launch

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WASHINGTON — Several groups file new complaints about the environmental impact of SpaceX’s Starship launch, even as the agency faces criticism for delaying the launch for environmental reviews. Ta.

Environmental groups announced on December 15 that they have filed a supplemental legal complaint in federal court regarding SpaceX’s license to launch Starship from its Starbase site near Brownsville, Texas. The organizations first filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration in May, shortly after the first Starship launched on April 20.

In a supplemental complaint, the Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy, Carrizo/Komecrude Nation, Inc. of Texas, Save RGV, and Surfrider Foundation allege that the FAA did not assess the environmental impacts of the first Starship launch. , alleges that it failed to properly analyze the statement before issuing it. Revised license for second launch, which took place on November 18th.

That new licensing process included an environmental review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of the pad deluge system that SpaceX installed on the pad to prevent damage like the one the pad sustained during its first launch. FWS concluded that the major flood system would not cause significant environmental changes.

Environmental groups argue that both the FAA and FWS have failed to meet requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to review the environmental impacts of Starship’s launch. “Once again, the FAA failed to conduct the necessary ‘rigorous examination’ of the impacts of the Starship/Super Heavy launch program through supplemental NEPA analysis,” the FAA said in its complaint.

FWS added, “Similarly, we were unable to adequately analyze the impact of the April 20 launch and the potential for further harm to listed species from subsequent launches.” The FWS review focused only on the deluge system and not on the environmental impact of debris from the April launch, the paper said. The deluge system was intended to prevent the production of such debris and appeared to be successful, based on the lack of damage to the pad after the second launch.

Jared Margolis, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “Continuing to allow SpaceX to launch the world’s largest, repeatedly exploding rocket without conducting a thorough environmental review shows a shocking disregard for wildlife and local communities.” ”, it said in a statement. New complaint. “SpaceX should not be allowed to freely use this amazing area as a sacrificial zone.”

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said at a Dec. 13 Senate hearing that the agency has consulted with environmental regulators about Starship’s importance to the Artemis moon exploration program.Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Environmental groups have accused the government of not doing enough to protect the environment from Starship’s launch, while others say the agency has gone too far.

The second Starship launch “was delayed for months due to bureaucratic red tape that involved AST, Fish and Wildlife, and other agencies intervening in the process,” said senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee. said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). At a Dec. 13 hearing by the commission’s Space Subcommittee. AST is the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Agency.

Kelvin Coleman, the FAA’s deputy administrator for commercial space transportation, told Cruise that an environmental review before the second launch is necessary “to ensure compliance with NEPA and related environmental laws.” . “We conducted that discussion with the Fish and Wildlife Service in accordance with U.S. law.”

Mr. Cruz claimed that the environmental review resulted in a “slight delay” even as the United States competes with China and Russia in spaceflight. “I’m not advocating for a complete repeal of environmental laws or NEPA. I’m just advocating for them not to be applied in foolish ways that delay commercial space.”

At the same hearing, NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said that NASA is in talks with some environmental regulators to make them aware of the importance of activities like Starship. Stated. NASA awarded SpaceX a $4 billion contract to develop Starship, a lunar lander version, to transport NASA astronauts to the moon, starting with Artemis 3, later this decade.

“There are a lot of new things going on and trying to operate within the legal deadlines, but there are also new players who are not very used to this type of activity,” she said, possibly referring to the FAA. He emphasized that no. We are an environmental partner that continues to learn. ”

“NASA is working very closely with these regulatory partners to ensure that they demonstrate recognition of the critical nature of the Artemis program and how important its success is to the nation. ” she told Mr. Cruz.

The FAA is overseeing a SpaceX-led investigation into the second Starship launch on Nov. 18. Both the Super Heavy booster and the Starship’s upper stage were destroyed in flight, with the Super Heavy detonating shortly after stage separation, and the Starship’s flight termination system was activated nearby. The end of the power phase of flight. Neither SpaceX nor the FAA have provided technical updates on the status of the investigation, including the cause of the destruction of both vehicles.

In an interview after the Dec. 13 hearing, Coleman said the investigation was “progressing pretty well.” The investigation is being conducted in parallel with an application for a license modification for Starship’s third test flight.

“I don’t think there will be any major surprises” about the investigation, he said. “The investigation is progressing as expected.”

The FAA has not set a timeline for completing its investigation. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says the next Starship/superheavy ship could be ready for launch by the end of the year, but once a study is completed and a revised launch license is issued. He publicly stated that the launch would not be possible until then.

In a Dec. 12 presentation to a local group in Brownsville, Kathy Lueders, former NASA associate administrator for space operations and current SpaceX Starbase general manager, said the next Starship launch will be in early 2024. He said he expected it to happen. If we were in the first quarter, that would definitely be the case,” she said, as reported by myRGV.com. “Elon will probably say end of December, but I don’t think we’ll get there.”

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