By Matthew Field,
Published by the Telegraph, 25 April 2023
‘Ash’ and other debris rained down on nearby town where windows shattered
Elon Musk’s Starship rocket has been grounded by US authorities amid claims a dust plume from the launch spread for miles and covered local wildlife.
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has halted future launches of the SpaceX rocket while it investigates the fallout of the failed mission, which is standard procedure for any US space mission that goes awry.
Environmental activists who monitored the SpaceX launch at the company’s Boca Chica base, on the US border with Mexico, allege that the rocket formed a dust cloud that spread for six miles over the launch site, raining debris down on the town of Port Isabel. Inhabitants said that the launch felt like an earthquake, the New York Times reported.
One conservationist told CNBC that the force of the rocket launch had broken windows in the town. Texas Public Radio reported locals in Port Isabel photographed “ash” falling from the sky.
Dave Cortez, chapter director of environmental group Sierra Club, told CNBC: “Concrete shot out into the ocean, and risked hitting the fuel storage tanks which are these silos adjacent to the launch pad.”
Environmentalists warned Mr Musk’s launches could harm local protected species, including birds such as the piping plover, ocelots and endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, which nest on the beaches near Boca Chica.
A US Fish and Wildlife report last year found that SpaceX’s activities at Boca Chica had significantly reduced bird populations in nearby habitats.
Large pieces of scrap from the exploded rocket were also found washed up on beaches across the Gulf of Mexico in the hours following the launch.
Mr Musk’s Starship rocket and Superheavy booster are twice as powerful as NASA’s Saturn V launch vehicles that were built to take mankind to the Moon in the 1960s.
The FAA grounded SpaceX’s rockets on Thursday, pending a standard investigation to check that “any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap does not affect public safety”.
The agency has also initiated its environmental “anomaly response plan” and will coordinate with local Texas wildlife officials “prior to any activity that may impact sensitive wildlife habitat”.
On Facebook last Friday, Port Isabel’s City Hall posted that “Cameron County Emergency Management Division has confirmed that the dust that fell this morning in Port Isabel was sand and soil from near the SpaceX launch site that was lofted into the air by the force of lift off.”
The SpaceX launch ripped chunks of solid concrete from the base of Starship’s launch pad and left a crater in the ground below.
The rocket exploded four minutes into its flight after entering a spin, leading the rocket to initiate a self-destruct sequence.
Fans of Mr Musk were seen scouring the area around Starbase for scraps of metal that had been thrown hundreds of metres from the launch site.
Metal fuel tanks surrounding the launchpad had visible dents across their structures in the aftermath.
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