Clock ticking on comment period on plan to launch rockets over Cumberland Island
By David Pendered
The clock is ticking on the public comment period for a planned spaceport on the Georgia coast. Plans call for privately owned rockets to be launched from a site near the mouth of the Satilla River, soar at 30,000 feet over Cumberland Island, and continue toward or into outer space.
The Federal Aviation Administration endorses the plan, according to its draft environmental impact statement. June 14 is the deadline for public comment.
The proposed spaceport has traveled at rocket speed in three years.
In 2015, Camden County officials listed it in the county’s long-range plan to promote economic development. In 2017, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law that clears the way for the spaceport. In recent weeks, it has gained support from the FAA and Georgia’s two Republican senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue. Several Republican candidates for governor support the planned spaceport.
Camden County officials are reaching into an old playbook in their effort to boost their local economy by wooing manufacturers in the space industry.
In the early 1960s, Thiokol Chemical Corporation, Inc. chose Camden as the location for its rocket program for reasons including the county’s workforce and “community attitude,” according to a memorial website. At the time, the company had been working for years in the defense industry and, previously, rocket scientists had decided Thiokol’s signature product was a promising rocket fuel.
In 1965, the company launched the world’s most powerful rocket from its Camden County manufacturing site, according to the memorial website. The project didn’t move forward for a number of reasons.
Fast forward to present day, and the FAA statement observes:
- “The need for the proposed commercial space launch site is to further the goals of Camden County as established in the County’s Strategic Plan 2018, 2023, 2032 to create a strong regional economy with diverse job opportunities based on four major pillars of economic growth and sustainment, one of which is developing a world-class spaceport that would also attract businesses to support its operation.”
In evaluating the spaceport’s environmental impact, the FAA statement acknowledges the spaceport would alter the pristine nature of the area – but not enough to warrant rejecting the project.
For example, the noise of a rocket launch could cause some listeners to become irritated when their moment of respite on Cumberland Island and other nearby areas is interrupted, according to the statement.
Plans call for launching 12 rockets a year, and testing 12 engines a year at full thrust by firing up the engine while keeping the rocket firmly attached to the ground. Each rocket could weigh up to 1.5 million pounds and stand up to 250 feet tall. Here’s a snippet of the statement’s observation about noise:
- “Noise levels during launches, landings, and static fire events would be quite high in areas surrounding Spaceport Camden, but each event type would occur only up to 12 times per year….
- “Noise at Cumberland Island National Seashore would be of particular concern because of the expectation among visitors of a completely natural soundscape…. Although existing research does not support prediction of a specific percentage of visitors that would be highly annoyed by the noise of rocket operations, disruption of the natural soundscape, particularly in the designated Cumberland Island Wilderness Area, could degrade the positive experiences of visitors to the island. …
- “However, the noise events would be infrequent and FAA does not expect operational activities to result in significant adverse impacts.”
Note to readers: The FAA statement says: “FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Written comments on this document should be directed to Ms. Stacey M. Zee, FAA Environmental Specialist, Spaceport Camden EIS, c/o Leidos, 2109 Air Park Road SE, Suite 200 Albuquerque, NM 87106, or e-mail at [email protected]”