by Douglas Messier
Despite strong opposition from local residents worried about safety, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded a spaceport license to the controversial Spaceport Camden project in Georgia on Monday. The decision will likely transform years of bitter public debate into years of bitter court battles over the project.
“In the 20th century Camden County was declared the ‘Gateway to Space.’ With this license, we have retained that title again in the 21st century,” Steve Howard, Camden County Administrator and Spaceport Camden executive project lead, said in a press release. “This once in a generation opportunity will provide a new frontier of economic prosperity for Camden, the region and the state of Georgia. Georgia is part of the new space race, and we will become one of the leaders.”
Spaceport Camden will be unique among U.S. vertical orbital launch complexes in that it won’t be located directly on the coast but rather inland. Small rockets launched from the Camden County-backed facility will travel over Cumberland and Little Cumberland islands, where there are private homes and a national seashore open to recreational visitors.
Spaceport Camden thus creates a twist on the not-in-my-backyard phenomenon in which local residents oppose a project because it’s built near them. In this case, they’re worried about debris literally crashing into their backyards — or worse.
FAA has said its analysis said that small satellite boosters can be launched safely from the spaceport without endangering residents or visitors to the Cumberland National Seashore. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) disagrees.
“Virtually from the start, the FAA’s review of Spaceport Camden has been fraught with factual mistakes and legal errors. We will carefully review the FAA’s decision to ensure that it fully complies with all applicable laws,” SELC senior attorney Brian Gist said.
Camden County has not publicly identified which small satellite launcher might fly from the facility. However, the county’s press release included a quote from Phantom Space CEO Jim Cantrell, whose company is developing a booster in that class.
“Phantom Space is thrilled to see Spaceport Camden open for business. The additional launch capacity aligns well to our efforts to make access to space commonplace with reliable and responsive space transportation systems. Congratulations to Steve Howard and Camden County on this milestone achievement.,” Cantrell said.
Any booster operating from Spaceport Camden will need to obtain a separate FAA launch license.