Space

Another Starship explosion would be bad news for nearby park managers

Comment

The SpaceX Starship stands at sunset ahead of its scheduled launch from the SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas on April 18, 2023.
Image Credits: Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images

Starship’s upcoming test does not have a very high probability of success, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Last month, he put the chances of success at around 50%; in a Twitter Spaces earlier this week, he seemed to downgrade that probability even further. “If we do launch, I would consider anything that does not result in the destruction of the launch mount itself, the launch pad […] I would consider that to be a win,” he said.

The possibility of another testing anomaly at Starbase is likely not good news for environmental managers, who must oversee SpaceX’s clean-up efforts for any debris that falls on lands under their jurisdiction, like state parks.

Past explosions at Starbase, the company’s testing and launch facility in southeastern Texas, have generated debris fields that have impacted the adjacent Brazos Island State Park and Boca Chica State Park. A test of Starship’s upper stage in March 2021 generated a debris field impacting across 700 acres of surrounding parkland, Shyamal Patel, SpaceX’s senior director of Starship operations, told regulators in a January 2022 email.

The anomaly generated the largest debris field of all the Starship explosions to date, Patel added.

The final piece of debris from SN11 was an approximately 1,500-pound actuator component, Leonardo Alaniz, SpaceX’s manager of environmental, health and safety, reported to regulators in June 2021. The company had to submit a retrieval plan, involving the use of a heavy-duty Case 210 excavator, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) before removing it from the site.

The emails between SpaceX and government officials, including those from the FWS, the TPWD and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), were reviewed as part of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by TechCrunch.

Coordinating the debris retrieval due to the SN11 anomaly was “a substantial burden” upon FWS staff time, FWS wildlife refuge manager Sonny Perez said in a June 2021 email to FAA officials.

Part of the source of that burden, it seems, was the short lead times from SpaceX regarding road closures due to Starship vehicle testing. Perez told Alaniz in April 2021 that these closures delayed or prevented response teams accessing the debris site to monitor clean-up efforts.

In one instance, Perez said a short-notice closure resulted in the assistant refuge manager, who was onsite to oversee SN11 debris retrieval efforts, being asked to leave early. The refuge manager and a wildlife biologist were denied access to the site altogether.

Perez did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for comment, but an FWS spokesperson told TechCrunch that a “multi-agency response team” works with SpaceX to respond and assess debris.

Reagan Faught, a park superintendent with TPWD, told TechCrunch that the agency has had to shift its approach in establishing protocols with SpaceX after the company shifted to Starship testing in 2020. “The retrieval of anomaly debris must be done in a delicate manner to avoid further disturbance to the sensitive algal tidal flats, loma habitats, and nesting habitat in the area,” he said. “We have actively worked with SpaceX on how best to perform those retrieval efforts and will continue to improve the retrieval process.”

In the best case scenario, tomorrow’s Starship orbital flight test will generate no debris at all, with the Super Heavy booster and upper stage both making separate ocean splashdowns after launch. But in the Twitter Spaces interview, Musk entreated the public to set their expectations accordingly, adding that to expect success “would be insane.”

The story has been updated to reflect Reagan Faught’s pronouns. 

More TechCrunch

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI