Owners say Spaceport Camden site is too small as FAA delays decision

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Federal regulators have delayed the next step in deciding whether Camden Spaceport will become a reality. The Federal Aviation Authority’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation announced on Wednesday that it now plans to release a Decision record on the project before November 3. The deadline was September 30.

Camden County Test in 2017 (Spaceportcamden.us)

Delays have been the norm for the controversial Camden County-led project, which aims to launch small rockets from a former industrial site on the unincorporated county swamp. Commercial rockets would take off from the mainland and fly over the nearby Cumberland Island National Seashore, a huge blocking point for visitors to the national park and even larger for residents.

The FAA issued a draft environmental impact statement for Spaceport Camden in 2018. After sending 15,500 public comments, Camden County amended its request in January 2020. Instead of the midsize rockets cited in the initial plans, the county moved on to find a license to operate a small rocket launch site. These weigh 3,300 pounds or less, roughly the size of a Toyota Corolla with four people on board.

Despite fears that small rockets would fail at higher rates, federal regulators declined to conduct further analysis and instead issued a final EIS in June, based on analysis of a rocket that does not exist. again launched on a single trajectory of 100 degrees. .

Critics at Spaceport say the imaginary rocket could help Camden get its site operator license, but no rocket company will cross a second regulatory hurdle and get a license to actually launch from Camden. A recent article in The edge quoted Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck as saying he wouldn’t even try to launch from Camden with his Electron rocket, the closest thing to the theoretical one used in the FAA’s analysis.

“We have a very deep commitment to public safety here, so we will certainly never endanger the public in this way. It’s just – not cool, ”he said in the article. “But, I mean, there’s just no way the FAA would go along with that. I just can’t imagine how this could happen.

Marsh as a debris field

As late as Monday, an FAA spokesperson confirmed the September 30 deadline for the decision record.

“The US Department of Transportation Authorization dashboard list Sept. 30 as the target date for the release of the Spaceport Camden decision brief, ”spokesman Steven Kulm wrote in an email. “A licensing determination is a related but separate action that follows the decision record, and our assessment is still ongoing. “

But Monday was also when the Little Cumberland Island Homes Association, which represents the 48 homes on the island, sent its latest letter to the FAA. In it, Kevin Lang, lawyer and vice president of the association, wrote that the launch site is too small. It must be large enough that debris from a failed launch lands on the spaceport property or on a property that the spaceport is authorized to use. For a small rocket it is a circular area around the launch pad with a radius of more than a mile.

Potential Camden Spaceport Site Credit: Camden Spaceport

But in that circle around the proposed launch pad for Spaceport Camden, much of the property belongs to Georgia.

“The debris scattering radius for the proposed spaceport includes over 2,000 acres of salt marshes that belong to the state of Georgia. It also includes approximately 770 acres of the Satilla River and Tidal Streams, which are Georgia state-owned waterways, ”Lang wrote to the FAA. “We have already brought this fact to the attention of the FAA.”

The property is not associated with a grant from the king, which means that it is not private property. And the state did not praise him.

“There is no evidence on the record that the state of Georgia entered into such an agreement or gave Camden County or the FAA any kind of commitment to do so,” Lang wrote.

Doug Haymans, director of the coastal resources division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said Thursday that Camden County had not requested such arrangements.

On Wednesday, the FAA spokesman declined to explain what consultations were underway.

“The FAA continues its consultation efforts with participating federal and state agencies and other stakeholders,” he wrote.

Which agencies and stakeholders?

“I have nothing more to add,” Kulm wrote.


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