Hawaii needs input on SpaceX ocean-landing plan

By Lynda Williams,
Published by Star Advertiser, 27 April 2023

The world watched aghast as SpaceX blew up its own spaceship on April 20, four minutes after launch due to engine failure. Even though the mission was not completed, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, claimed it was a success because the real goal was for the rocket to clear the launch pad at the spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas.

What most folks don’t know or realize is that Starship was always going to blow up when it crashlanded in the Pacific Ocean, just 62 nautical miles north of Kauai and a few hundred miles east of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

In the next test launch, which Musk boasted will happen in the next few months, the world’s largest spaceship will descend toward Earth in free fall and blow up upon impact with a force of a ton of TNT as fuel ignites in a great explosion. On a second and third launch test, Starship will break up in the atmosphere and tumble down and crash-land in a debris field several hundred miles southwest of the island chain.

SpaceX obtained a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial space launch license (experimental permit), rubber-stamped by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) without any consultation of Hawaii’s people because, according to an email I received from the FAA: “No in-person public outreach was conducted in Hawaii as the Starship vehicle was planned to land outside of range for impacts to the residents of Hawaii.”

First of all, that is assuming everything goes exactly according to the plan, which we have all just witnessed doesn’t always happen. If the Starship goes off course by even a few degrees, the consequences could be catastrophic to Hawaii.

Secondly, I think most folks in Hawaii would agree that 62 miles north of Kauai is considered Hawaii culturally if not legally, and that is way too close for what is essentially a rocket bomb to crash-land.

SpaceX was not required to do a full environmental impact study (EIS), but a much-weaker environmental assessment (EA) that only requires the analysis of “nominal operations” or bestcase scenarios. Why was that allowed when the worst-case scenarios are so catastrophic?

In the EA, rather than doing a detailed analysis of the potential impact to marine mammals protected by the Endangered Species Act, NOAA wrote a “Biological Opinion” that argued “less than one” animal would be harmed by a 100 ton steel rocket exploding with the energy of a small nuclear bomb.

It came to that conclusion because it analyzed only one “nominal” scenario in which the rocket hits the water exactly horizontal to the surface with the fuel tanks orientated on top, which is impossible to control or predict. If the explosion is above water, NOAA argues, only a fraction of the energy will be transmitted into the ocean and travel deep enough to harm any of the 30 endangered species of whales, sharks, turtles, monk seals, dolphins and rays in Hawaii.

The EA has many unsubstantiated claims, such as no animals would be near the surface of the water during the crash — even though most are mammals that surface to breathe air.

It ignored the fact that Humpback whales migrate through the target “action area.” It assumed that most of the debris will be large enough to sink to the bottom of the ocean without encountering and injuring animals — but if any does drift into the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, then the Coast Guard would be sent to clean it up.

This alone is reason to contest the EA and demand an EIS since NOAA and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs co-manage Papahanaumokuakea and OHA should have been consulted, but was not.

The FAA and NOAA analyses are flawed, and both are failing in their duty to protect the people of Hawaii from extreme corporate and federal government abuse.

Hawaii must not become collateral damage and a colonized sacrifice zone for the government’s privatization of the space program and a billionaire’s personal ambition and corporate profits.

At minimum, the FAA must suspend the SpaceX license, conduct a full EIS and include the residents of Hawaii in the review process. The best plan is to ban SpaceX from trashing people and planet in Musk’s ego trip to Mars.

See: Original Article