After a string of delays and a scrubbed launch attempt, SpaceX finally conducted the first test flight of its Starship spacecraft earlier this month. While the vehicle got off the ground, it seems federal agencies will be dealing with the explosive fallout of the mission for quite some time.
Federal agencies say the launch led to a 3.5-acre fire on state park land. The blaze was extinguished. Debris from the rocket, which SpaceX said it had to blow up in the sky for safety reasons after a separation failure, was found across hundreds of acres of land. “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,” the Texas arm of the US Fish and Wildlife Service told Bloomberg.
The agency noted it hasn’t found evidence of dead wildlife as a result of the incident. Still, it’s working with the Federal Aviation Administration on a site assessment and post-launch recommendations, while ensuring compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
Soon after the launch and Starship’s explosion, the FAA said it was carrying out a mishap investigation. Starship is grounded for now and its return to flight depends on the agency “determining that any system, process or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety.”
Starship’s approved launch plan included an anomaly response process, which the FAA says was triggered after the spacecraft blew up. As such, SpaceX is required to remove debris from sensitive habitats, carry out a survey of wildlife and vegetation and send reports to several federal agencies. “The FAA will ensure SpaceX complies with all required mitigations,” the agency told Bloomberg.
Even if SpaceX can sate federal agencies' concerns swiftly, it may be quite some time until the next Starship launch. The super heavy-lift space launch vehicle destroyed its launch pad, sending chunks of debris into the air. Footage showed the shrapnel landing on a nearby beach and even hitting a van hundreds of yards from the launch site. Fortunately, no one was hurt, according to the FAA.