Camden County has partnered with an investment group to push forward plans for a spaceport on the Georgia coast as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) weighs whether to approve the controversial project.
Camden County is facing a series of significant challenges in winning FAA approval to build a spaceport for vertical launches in the coastal Georgia county. At the root of the county’s problems: the launch site isn’t actually on the coastline.
“Camden County’s application includes populated areas within an overflight exclusion zone. Camden County has not demonstrated that it can control and manage the population in the vicinity of the proposed launch site, particularly on Little Cumberland Island,” according to a letter the FAA sent to county officials on Oct. 17.
WOODBINE, Ga., December 17, 2019 (Camden County Commissioners PR) – Camden County is nearing completion of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) process for approval to build a commercial space launch site.
A review of emails indicates the FAA has serious safety concerns about the proposed Spaceport Camden in Georgia that have been worsened difficulties getting information from Camden County. WABE reports:
In multiple emails obtained through open records requests by the Southern Environmental Law Center, FAA staff expressed concern about how Camden’s originally proposed launches could be safe enough for the population beneath its proposed rocket trajectories, which would cross over two barrier islands. And up until at least October, the county had not alleviated those concerns….
Eighty-three families own land and private homes on Little Cumberland, roughly 5 miles east of the proposed launch pad, and many have consistently voiced concerns about how a spaceport launch could safely happen over the island. Cumberland Island next door also has private residences and is largely controlled by the National Park Service as a protected National Seashore.
FAA staff also pointed out the plan to launch so close to overflight populations was unprecedented for the country’s vertical launch spaceports.
A group of island homeowners have strongly opposed the spaceport on safety reasons.
In a press release, Camden County officials claimed WABE’s report was erroneous.
Camden County is concerned with reports characterizing the FAA as struggling to get safety information from Camden County. This is not the case. First, Camden County sent its full flight safety analysis to the FAA in April 2017 and took the unprecedented step of publicly releasing an ITAR compliant version of its Flight Safety Analysis in 2019. Second, the actual emails released from the FAA in response to FOIA show that the FAA repeatedly calculated that Camden County could meet the regulatory thresholds with hundreds of people on Little Cumberland Island. Further, these emails demonstrate that the FAA explored opportunities with Camden County to ensure compliance with the FAA’s requirements.
FAA had planned to release a final environmental impact statement on the application earlier this week. However, last week Camden County amended its application, requiring the FAA to continue the review process.
The original application requested permission to launch up to 12 medium or large rockets per year with a dozen first stage landings. The modification requested approval for small launch vehicles with no landings.
The FAA has delayed the release of the final environmental impact statement on the proposed Spaceport Camden in Georgia after Camden County amended its application last week. The release had been scheduled for Monday. Dec. 16.
“On Dec. 14, 2019, Camden County notified the FAA that it was amending its launch site operator license application,” a FAA spokesperson said. “This amendment requires the FAA to conduct new analyses to address the fundamental changes to the application, and the FAA has agreed to toll its review of Camden’s license application per Camden County’s request.”
The original application requested approval to conduct orbital and suborbital vertical launches and landings of medium and large rockets.
“Launch operations would include preparatory activities to ready and test launch vehicles and systems, including up to 12 vertical launches and up to 12 associated launch vehicle first-stage landings per year,” the spokesperson said.
“This amendment removes the request for a medium-to-large rocket with return to a small rocket with no return,” she added.
WOODBINE, Ga. (Spaceport Camden PR)–The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has notified Camden County, Georgia that it has completed an initial review of the Spaceport Camden Launch Site Operator License application and found it to be complete enough to accept and begin the 180-day review process. According to the FAA it “anticipate[s] making a license determination, in accordance with 14 CFR § 413.15, on or before December 16, 2019.”
CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, Ga. (Protect Cumberland Island PR – A document proving that the Cumberland Island National Seashore’s expected casualty rates from launches at Spaceport Camden exceed FAA limitations has been legally obtained from Camden County by a local citizen under the Georgia Open Records Act (GORA).
The document was included in a large batch of documents sent to a Camden County resident, Steve Weinkle, as part of a GORA request.
WOODBINE, Ga. (Camden County PR) — Today, the Camden County Board of Commissioners formally submitted its application for a Launch Site Operator License (LSOL) to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The successful submission of the LSOL marks more than three years of work to comply with the detailed regulatory requirements necessary to conduct orbital and suborbital launches from southeast Georgia.
ATLANTA (SELC PR) — The Southern Environmental Law Center is challenging the Federal Aviation Administration for refusing to disclose important information about the risks of harm to human life and property around a proposed spaceport in Camden County.
WOODBINE, Ga., March 9, 2018 (Camden County PR) — Spaceport Camden has achieved its most significant milestone to date with the release of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The EIS process for Spaceport Camden began in the fall of 2015 and for the last two and a half years, the FAA has been evaluating the environmental impacts of all proposed construction and operational activities, including those from launches of orbital and suborbital vertical launch vehicles and first-stage landings at Spaceport Camden.
WOODBINE, Ga. (Protect Cumberland Island PR) — The Cumberland Island National Seashore is a national treasure that is enjoyed by over 60,000 visitors per year. The Board of Commissioners of Camden County, Georgia is attempting to obtain a license for a commercial spaceport that will require rockets to be launched directly over the National Seashore. This ill-advised plan puts the Cumberland Island National Seashore and coastal marshlands in peril from exploding rockets, environmental contamination and other significant risks. The proposed spaceport would be the first and only spaceport in the United States where rockets are launched over a national park with active visitation and private homes.
WOODBINE, GEORGIA, (Camden County PR) – Steve Howard, Camden County Administrator and Spaceport Camden Project lead announced today that ABL Space Systems has signed a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) with Camden County officials to explore future launch operations at Spaceport Camden. The MOU outlines how ABL Space Systems will work with Spaceport Camden to test, manufacture, assemble, and launch orbital vehicles in Camden County. The MOU is a precursor to a larger definitive agreement to be negotiated and signed no later than July 31, 2019.
WOODBINE, Ga., November 6, 2017 (Spaceport Camden PR) – The Camden County Board of Commissioners released a report finding that a Spaceport Camden Innovation and Research Park will lead to expanded job growth and investment benefits for Camden County residents, as well as outside aeronautical firms looking to launch new projects. County leaders requested the analysis from Astralytical, a space analytics firm, to assess the opportunities an aerospace research park would provide.
George Gov. Nathan Deal has signed legislation in support of a spaceport in Camden County.
The Georgia Space Flight Act, which the General Assembly passed overwhelmingly in March, will give operators of a planned commercial spaceport in Camden County, Ga., the same liability protections that already exist in states competing with Georgia to host commercial rocket launches. House Bill 1 sets a strict legal standard for a plaintiff, likely a space tourist, injured while riding in a spacecraft to collect damages in a lawsuit.
“Commercial space flight is the next great space race,” said Camden County Administrator and Spaceport Camden project leader Steve Howard, who attended Monday’s bill-signing ceremony. “It is a $320 billion industry that offers tens of thousands of good, high-paying jobs. By signing this legislation today, Gov. Deal is sending a message to the global space industry that we are open for business.”
Camden County is working closely with Arizona-based Vector, a small satellite launch company founded by veterans of SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas and Sea Launch. Vector, which is planning to conduct a test launch of a suborbital rocket at Camden as early as this summer, launched its first test rocket last week in California’s Mojave Desert.
“The signing of [House Bill] 1 not only represents the huge strides taken in developing space flight legislation,” said Jim Cantrell, Vector’s co-founder and CEO. “[It] also demonstrates the viability of Spaceport Camden to support Vector’s goal of developing hundreds of launches a year.
Other states seeking to get in on the growing commercial space industry have adopted legislation requiring plaintiffs to prove “gross negligence” in order to collect damages, a tougher standard than “ordinary negligence,” and Georgia should do the same in order to compete for space business, said Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, the bill’s chief sponsor….
The proposed Spaceport Camden could create more than 2,000 jobs in an economically stressed part of Georgia, while at the same time serving as a catalyst for companies involved in the commercial space industry in metro Atlanta.
An environmental impact study spearheaded by the Federal Aviation Administration that began late in 2015 is due to produce a draft report by the end of this year….
Also this week, a committee in the Georgia House of Representatives passed an identical bill offering liability protection for spaceport activities.
During an update of the ongoing study released this week, Stacey Zee, a FAA environmental specialist explained the status of the ongoing work.
“The team has been working hard over the past few months to develop the draft EIS and write reports based on the cultural resource surveys and wetland surveys that we completed in the fall,” Zee said.
A survey has been conducted to determine if there are any jurisdictional wetlands on the site for the proposed spaceport. The Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked with reviewing and verifying the information, she said.
The team will also begin consultations with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to discuss endangered species and potential impacts from rocket launches from the site.