Coastal spaceport plan encounters turbulence on eve of federal license announcement
Several days before the Federal Aviation Administration announces whether it will license a controversial rocket launch project, a Camden County judge is expected to decide on Friday whether to issue a restraining order temporarily blocking the purchase of the property for Spaceport Camden.
A temporary restraining order hearing has been set at the spaceport after a petition signed by 3,800 Camden residents was submitted to estates court on Tuesday. The petition argues that local residents should be protected from a runaway county government that has spent millions on what they claim is an unsustainable and dangerous plan to launch medium-sized rockets off the Georgian coast.
The FAA signaled it was ready to grant an operator license to Spaceport Camden on Monday, announcing it was finalizing a deal with federal agencies, local government officials and other groups to minimize the potential damage that launches could inflict on historic properties if rockets crash into land.
However, details of the launches and other details are still under wraps after environmentalists, the National Park Service and others expressed concern that rocket explosions could pose a threat to wildlife on the islands. – Neighboring barriers, including the Cumberland National Seashore.
Megan Desrosiers, CEO and president of coastal conservation organization One Hundred Miles, said if the judge makes the temporary restraining order, there will be a 60-day period for signature verification and a 90-day period. days for a special election to be held.
The petition seeks to prevent the county from buying a former industrial site controlled by Union Carbide the county is considering serving as the spaceport headquarters.
“The county is spending millions and millions of dollars to buy a property for the spaceport when this site is contaminated and taxpayers would be held responsible for cleaning up the contamination before any kind of development on this property occurs,” he said. declared Desrosiers. “In addition, they are spending millions and millions of dollars to promote a spaceport when there is no private space entity waiting to be built and they never had a budget line in the budget. county for the spaceport. “
The FAA has delayed his decision four times this year to work out details, but this latest postponement – from Wednesday to Monday – is a much shorter postponement than the others.
“We have waited six years for the Spaceport Camden ROD and licensing decision, if the FAA needs the rest of the week to finalize its coordination efforts we can wait a few more days,” said the Spaceport Camden spokesperson John Simpson. “The petition is an attempt to Hail Mary by opponents of the spaceport and changes nothing at Camden County’s request to the FAA.”
Environmental organizations are calling for a more in-depth environmental review that fully takes into account the types of rockets proposed for the spaceport and their failure rates. Last year, those in charge of the spaceport reduced his proposal to the FAA about its initial vision to send rockets as large as the 230-foot-tall SpaceX Falcon 9 into orbit, a reduction designed to improve the chances of obtaining the FAA license.
Critics of the spaceport say the $ 10 million addition the county incurred in trying to get approval for the spaceport will not pay off in the long run. Instead, they argue that county officials have vastly overestimated the economic value of a spaceport that supporters sell as attracting enough new industries and up to 2,000 related jobs to become an economic engine for the region.
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But Camden commissioners say there is already interest from outside parties showing the potential of satellite launches and point to a Georgia Southern University study citing it brings in more than $ 3 million in tourism. local. The US commercial space industry could reach $ 3 trillion by 2047, according to Bank of America.
So far, the county has announced three memoranda of understanding for the spaceport to safely operate up to 12 smaller commercial vertical launches per year, which could give Camden a rare economic advantage in the region.
Through an agreement with Alaska Aerospace Corp., owner and operator of the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska under license from the FAA, the two space ports would coordinate with operators interested in launching from the two locations.
In a May 2020 deal, Opixfex Global announced it would explore setting up astronaut training facilities near the spaceport, while ABL Space Systems announced in 2018 that it would work with Spaceport Camden to build, test, assemble and launch orbital vehicles.
Nonetheless, Desrosiers says the FAA forced Spaceport Camden’s backers to rethink their plan last year when it asked them to come up with a brand new proposal that featured rockets that had never been launched before.
âThey say if this rocket ever becomes a viable rocket, then that would be a good place to launch it,â she said. “The whole idea went from being the best idea ever to how to put a square peg in a round hole?” “
Governor Brian Kemp backed the project in 2017 during the election campaign, but declined to comment on the project earlier this year while it was under review by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
This spring, U.S. Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock told FAA officials he was troubled by the plans and asked the department to slow down its review to account for the change in scope of Camden’s proposal.
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