SpaceX's activities near a Texas beach spark appeal after court dismisses lawsuit

SpaceX's Starship on the launch pad at Starbase on March 18, 2022.
(Image credit: SpaceX)

A dispute concerning SpaceX facilities and access to a nearby Texas beach is once again before the courts.

The Sierra Club and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of South Texas jointly appealed the 445th District Court's decision July 7 to dismiss a lawsuit concerning SpaceX testing of its next-generation Starship vehicle closing nearby Boca Chica Beach, the coalition said July 28.

In the dismissal, Judge Gloria Rincones argued there is "no private right of enforcement" concerning the beach access, according to KRGV.com (opens in new tab). The dismissal took place over the appellants' protests that closing the beach violates the Texas state constitution, along with access rights by traditional groups.

Related: 8 ways that SpaceX has transformed spaceflight

The Sierra Club's Brownsville organizer, Emma Guevara, stated the appeal is taking place because the beach is closed weekly to allow "a billionaire [to] launch deadly rockets near homes and wildlife."

Citing a fireball that briefly and unexpectedly engulfed Starship during testing July 12, Guevera said her family was "forced" to hear the noise, which "launched without any warning for the public."

None of the allegations have been proven in court, and the appeal does not name SpaceX among the entities pursued. SpaceX also did not respond to a Space.com request for comment.

The Boca Chica beach under dispute is located close to SpaceX's Starbase facility, where the next-generation Starship vehicle is being developed. A Federal Aviation Administration review in June allowed the development to continue as long as SpaceX addresses 75 matters to mitigate the environmental impact.

Not everyone agrees, however. The Sierra Club, the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas and non-profit Save RGV [Rio Grande Valley] all participated in the lawsuit alleging that restricting the beach access violates the Texas constitution. 

The initial lawsuit alleged that Boca Chica Beach was closed for 196 hours, or roughly 8 days, in the first three months of 2022. In the previous year, the beach had about 600 hours, or 25 equivalent days, of closures.

Even after the lawsuit was dismissed, local residents continued to protest the beach closures, including at a unanimous vote July 14 by the Cameron County Commissioners Court to support SpaceX's Starship development, according to Texas Public Radio (opens in new tab).

Starship's team is targeting the program's first orbital flight later this year to support ambitious future plans for the program, including landing NASA astronauts on the moon and launching one of the Polaris program's private astronaut missions.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace