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SpaceX Files Motion to Become Defendant in Boca Chica Spaceport Lawsuit

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 22, 2023
Filed under , , , ,
SpaceX Files Motion to Become Defendant in Boca Chica Spaceport Lawsuit
Starship lifts off from Starbase in Texas.
Image credit: SpaceX.

SpaceX has filed a motion in US Federal District Court to intervene as a defendant in a lawsuit that environmental groups filed against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in an attempt to void the agency’s approval for the company to launch Starship/Super Heavy rockets from Boca Chica, Texas.

“SpaceX’s Starship/Super Heavy launch program hinges on the FAA’s review and licensing decision challenged here. If the Court were to rule in Plaintiffs’ favor, the FAA’s decision could be set aside, and further licensing of the Starship/Super Heavy Program could be significantly delayed, causing severe injury to SpaceX’s business,” the company said in the motion, which was filed on May 19.

SpaceX said it has made a significant investment in the launch vehicle and spaceport since the FAA issued a record of decision (ROD) allowing SpaceX to develop the Boca Chica site in July 2014.

“Since the FAA issued the ROD approving development of the site [in July 2014], SpaceX has invested more than $3 billion into developing the Boca Chica launch facility and Starship/Super Heavy launch system. The launch site already has significant infrastructure installations, including a vertical launch area, launch and landing control center, and other supporting, launch-related structures that have now been in use for years,” the motion said.

The motion continued to say that the Starship and Super Heavy program “is critical to multiple aspects of SpaceX’s business, including its performance under government contracts of national and international importance, such as the Artemis program, which will return Americans to the Moon for the first time in 50 years; its deployment of Starlink, the world’s first global high-speed, low-latency satellite broadband service; and its ability to meet the growing demand for commercial human space flight.”

SpaceX’s recent filing has been uploaded in its entirety below.

Various groups sue over the SpaceX Starship

Organizations including The Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, Save RGV, and The Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, Inc. filed a lawsuit on May 1 seeking to revoke the FAA’s approvals for the Starship/Super Heavy launches from the Gulf Coast spaceport just north of the Mexican border.

The plaintiffs claim the FAA violated the National Environmental Policy Act in approving Starship/Super Heavy launches from the site. The agency originally approved the Boca Chica site in 2014 for the launch of smaller Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The agency conducted a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) as part of the approval process.

SpaceX later switched to launching the much larger and more powerful Starship/Super Heavy booster from Boca Chica. The FAA decided that a less rigorous environmental assessment (EA) could be conducted rather than repeating the EIS.

The FAA approved the Boca Chica facility, also known as Starbase, for Starship/Super Heavy launches last June. The agency issued a launch license on May 14.

Debris lies in wetlands that surround Starbase after the maiden launch of SpaceX’s Starship/Super Heavy rocket. Image credit: Coastal Bays Bends and Estuaries.

The plaintiffs are seeking to have the approvals voided and launches stopped from Boca Chica until a second EIS is completed. They also allege that the mitigation efforts that SpaceX is required to undertake to lessen the impact of launches on nearby wetlands, which harbor endangered species, are inadequate.

Starship/Super Heavy’s April 20 maiden flight lasted four minutes before the booster exploded over the Gulf of Mexico. The booster began to veer out of control, triggering flight termination systems installed on the two stages.

The launch threw chunks of debris into nearby wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico, and it destroyed a concrete pad designed to absorb the force of 33 first-stage Raptor engines. A mixture of sandy material and ash fell on the city of Port Isabel about 6 miles (10 km) away and on the southern end of South Padre Island.

“Although no debris was documented on refuge fee-owned lands, staff documented approximately 385 acres of debris on SpaceX’s facility and at Boca Chica State Park, which is leased by the Service and managed as a component of the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge,” reads a US Fish and Wildlife Service statement from shortly after the launch. “Additionally, a 3.5-acre fire started south of the pad site on Boca Chica State Park land. At this time, no dead birds or wildlife have been found on refuge-owned or managed lands.”

4 responses to “SpaceX Files Motion to Become Defendant in Boca Chica Spaceport Lawsuit”

  1. TheBrett says:

    It seems like it’s just the same lawsuit these kind of groups tried back when the FAA first approved the FONSI for Starship. I can’t imagine it going differently this time.

  2. Thomas Matula says:

    The environmentalists are using the same strategy that was used to kill nuclear power, tie up the project for years in court so the costs skyrocket and its abandoned. It is truly sad how the environmentalists have weaponize the court system to block the progress humanity needs to survive.

  3. duheagle says:

    Good move. I foresee approval, after which SpaceX will be able to deploy that brigade of ninja lawyers Elon said he was assembling awhile back. Pop some corn and pull up a chair.

  4. BeanCounterFromDownUnder says:

    This really begs the question of why anyone would build in an environmentally sensitive area in the first place. I raised this question right when SpaceX started their program and no one had a satisfactory answer. Now the birds are coming home to roost and people are wondering why?
    PS. You guys do actually understand why the natural environment needs to remain don’t you or then again, maybe you don’t!

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