Fish and Wildlife Service documents damage from Starship launch

WASHINGTON — SpaceX’s Starship launch scattered debris over hundreds of acres and created a small brushfire, but did not kill any wildlife, a federal agency said.

In an April 26 statement to SpaceNews, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it documented the impacts of the April 20 Starship Integrated Test Flight that took off from Boca Chica, Texas, to the nearby Lower Rio National Wildlife Refuge. Great Valley. This documentation began after the highway leading to both the launch site and the shelter, closed due to what the agency called “launch pad safety issues”, opened two days after the launch. flight.

The biggest impact was the debris from the launch pad which was damaged by the thrust of the Super Heavy thruster. “Impacts from the launch include numerous large chunks of concrete, stainless steel sheets, metal and other objects thrown thousands of feet” from the platform, the Fish and Wildlife Service says.

He also cited “a plume cloud of pulverized concrete that deposited material up to 6.5 miles northwest of the platform site.” Residents of Port Isabel, Texas, a town northwest of the launch site, reported finding a thin layer of sand-like material after the launch.

No debris was found on land belonging to the refuge itself, but the agency said the debris was spread across 385 acres owned by SpaceX and Boca Chica State Park. A fire covering 3.5 acres also started south of the platform on state park land, but the Fish and Wildlife Service did not say what caused the fire or how long it lasted. burned.

There was no evidence, however, that the launch and the debris it created harmed wildlife. “At this time, no dead birds or wildlife have been found on land owned or managed by the sanctuary,” the agency said.

Pad damage was evident in images taken by photographers after launch. They showed extensive damage to the launch pad, the stool-like structure the vehicle sits on, and the concrete slab underneath. SpaceX has not released any details of the damage to the pad.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted On April 21, the thrust of the engines “may have broken up the concrete, rather than just eroding it”. This damage was not seen during a static firing test on Feb. 9, he said, because the engines were only fired at half thrust.

He added that the company had been working on a “massive water-cooled steel plate” that would go under the launch pad and serve as a sort of flame deflector. The pad has no frame trench or other bypass system commonly used on launch pads to channel exhaust gases away from the pad. Musk said the plate was not ready in time, but the company believed, based on static firing data, the plate could survive the launch intact.

“It looks like we could be ready to relaunch in 1-2 months,” Musk said, despite being known for his ambitious schedules.

It’s unclear that pad repairs will be the pacing item for Starship’s next launch attempt. SpaceX has yet to investigate the cause of the failed launch and make changes to upcoming vehicles in development. This investigation will require review and approval by the Federal Aviation Administration before issuing a new launch license to SpaceX or modifying the existing one that was originally valid for a single launch.

It’s also unclear what additional environmental reviews or assessments might be required due to the damage caused by the Starship’s launch. The FAA completed an environmental review for Starship launches in June 2022 that set more than 75 conditions on SpaceX, which include a range of activities to be conducted before or after a launch or accident.

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