Environmental experts express concern about SpaceX after company’s second test flight results in further damage to local area

SpaceX continues to come under fire from environmentalists who say the company’s actions are putting South Texas wildlife and the environment at risk.

The aerospace company has conducted several launches of its Starship in Boca Chica, Texas. April 2023 marked the first near-orbital test of the spacecraft, which is being called the most powerful rocket ever built.

However, the rocket exploded — apparently a planned occurrence — and its launch kicked up a cloud of debris that settled on a town six miles away and caused forces similar to an earthquake.

“It was truly terrifying,” one local resident told The New York Times.

The rocket’s engines also tore up part of the concrete launch pad, and chunks of concrete from the pad flew through the air, damaging a parked car in a nearby town.

SpaceX appeared to recognize it had to do better and made adjustments to its launchpad and added a wall for Starship’s November 2023 launch, which shows improvement, though it still resulted in similar but fortunately reduced debris and evidence of chemical waste, as reported by WANE and My San Antonio.

These launches affected the local environment, as the launch pad is located near a beach and surrounding tidal flats. The first launch even caused a 3.5-acre fire and a 385-acre debris field, causing experts to question why the launchpad did not include a flame diverter, trench, or water deluge system.

The Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, a local environmental group, told MySA that the area is an important habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species like the ocelot, aplomado falcon, piping plover, red knot, snowy plover, and black rail. It is also an important site for spring and fall bird migrations. And the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle nests only a quarter of a mile from the launch site, MySA reported.

Though the total impact on wildlife is unknown, the April explosion “incinerated” a group of blue land crabs and seven bobwhite quail eggs within a local state park. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists were left in disbelief over the environmental damage that the launch caused.

SpaceX also has received backlash for its plans to dispose of contaminated water that degrades wetlands. The company recently asked to dump more than 200,000 gallons of wastewater into the South Bay, and more than 1,100 people submitted comments in opposition to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, according to MySA.

Jim Chapman, president of FOWC, told the outlet that though the local environment might not look like much, “It is an extremely important area for lots of shorebirds and is a critical habitat for many endangered animals. There aren’t a lot of places like that; it is a unique area.”

Meanwhile, SpaceX cofounder and CEO Elon Musk took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to say more tests are coming: “Starship Flight 3 hardware should be ready to fly in 3 to 4 weeks. There are three ships in final production in the high bay (as can be seen from the highway).”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article characterized the post-launch explosion of Starship as causing damage on the ground in addition to the launch blast, but it has been updated to correct that damage to the local area in Texas has only been attributed to the launch process of each rocket.

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