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Israeli lunar crash reminds of energy behind push to build Spaceport Camden

By David Pendered

The crash landing of Israel’s spacecraft onto the surface of the moon in April may have fueled the conversation related to the proposed commercial spaceport on Georgia’s coast. With more entities focused on space exploration, the appetite for a commercial launch pad in Georgia may be growing.

Israeli crash site, moon, before after

The Israeli lunar vessel is thought to have landed at an impact site visible on the left-hand image. The image to the right has been processed to highlight changes marked by the white halo, where the vessel is thought to have crashed. Both panels are 490 meters wide, according to NASA. Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University via nasa.gov

If nothing else, the crash reminds of the extent of energy with which NASA and the private sector are responding to President Trump’s space policy. In his 2017 revision of U.S. space policy, Trump called on the U.S. to return a human to the moon by 2024.

Trump refreshed his policy in a March 26 statement:

  • “This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond.”

The July edition of National Geographic magazine references the energy level in the nation’s space program. The words, “frenzy of activity in the commercial space industry today,” appear in a story observing the 50th anniversary of the first crewed mission to the moon.

None of this purported frenzy is reflected in the FAA’s letter to Camden County’s Board of Commissioners. The FAA’s letter focuses on the county application to launch low-earth-orbit commercial satellites and to support other suborbital space activities.

The FAA  stated in its letter of June 28 to commissioners that the county had delivered all the information the FAA had requested to consider the application. Previously, the FAA had halted consideration of the application and said the county needed to provide additional information – including environmental impact studies of the type sought in a federal lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The FAA’s letter states the agency can proceed with the application review, according to the letter:

spaceport, state locator map, edit

Georgia’s proposed spaceport would be located in Camden County, near the Florida border and east of I-95. File/Credit: faa.gov

  • “We received the additional information on June 19, 2019.
  • “We have completed our initial review of the additional information, and found that your application is now complete enough for us to accept and to start the 180-day review period as of June 19, 2019. We are reviewing your application and anticipate making a license determination, in accordance with 14 CFR § 413.15, on or before December 16, 2019.”

The FAA’s decision does occur amid the backdrop of renewed energy around a lunar landing – including the Israeli mission – and a host of research by the private sector into commercial  activities in space that would need land-based support facilities.

The Israeli effort was a commercial project launched with U.S. support. The craft was launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Feb. 22 and carried a NASA payload that consisted of a device with reflectors that future spacecraft could have used to guide themselves, according to a May 8 report in israelhamon.com. The Israeli government paid $10 million of the $95 million cost.

The effort is largely deemed a success, despite the April 11 crash.

The vessel was just the seventh to have achieved lunar orbit and would have made Israel just the fourth nation to land a vessel on the moon, according to the report in israelhamon.com. Had it landed successfully, Israel would have become the fourth nation to have landed a craft on the moon.

The partnership with Israel continues one that dates to 1996. Terms of the partnership were expanded by a treaty signed in 2015 in Jerusalem, according to a report by timesofisrael.com.

Trump re-purposed the nation’s space policy in a memo released Dec. 11, 2017. Trump replaced an Obama-era policy to send a human to a near-Earth asteroid with a goal of sending a human to the moon and, potentially, to Mars.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



  1. Steve Weinkle July 8, 2019 10:37 am

    Wow! What a stretch of the imagination it takes to relate Spaceport Camden to the FAILED Israeli moonshot. In case one doesn’t already know, we went to the moon 50 years ago next week and found it boring enough that NASA cancelled the final three scheduled Apollo missions. Camden’s PR should write a story about being encouraged by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to build a HAL 9000 research lab on the contaminated Union Carbide site for Camden’s STEM students. And PS: the Israeli group has decided one failed attempt was enough. They’ve abandoned the moon, too.

    Only in their imagination can Spaceport Camden launch rockets over Cumberland Island National Seashore and private Little Cumberland Island without breaking the law and existing regulations. No amount of political pressure by spaceport promoters on Senator Johnny Isakson, Senator David Purdue, and Congressman Buddy Carter is worth the backlash those elected officials will receive if they try to put their thumbs on the scales at the FAA. If one loves the Georgia Coast, they hate Spaceport Camden.

    It would be interesting if a reporter dares interview the FAA after reading the substantive objections and comments at http://www.spaceportfacts.org/draft-eis.

    And keep in mind that the Apollo program, Bezo’s and Musk’s satellite networks, and everything done by NASA costs HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS. When not a single “private partner” has come forward with a single dollar for Spaceport Camden, why should Georgia taxpayers be strapped by it? I one wants to see their money spent well, they hate Spaceport Camden.Report

  2. P.S. Wallace July 8, 2019 7:02 pm

    In business, there are what we would wish to be, and what we can actually achieve. In regards to this effort, I would take a look at what my comparative advantage might be. Honestly, at first glance (leaving aside any state tax credits/incentives/etc.), I would think it is the offshore area. It *might* be less crowded (both in aerial-terms and ships/boat terms) than down south, and certainly less crowded than the coast going north….because once you go north, you’ve got the planes from Shaw AFB, Beaufort MCAS, Cherry Point MCAS, Pope AFB, NAS Oceana, and Langley AFB all practicing in those Warning areas offshore. With North Carolina constantly being invaded by Navy battlegroups doing work ups off shore. Airspace doesn’t clear up again till you get to near…Wallops.

    Airline routes would be a question for the Georgia coast, but they are reroutable, just like for KSC. And given the lack of significant population centers on the Georgia coast (between Savannah and Jax), the boating traffic should be less than, say, KSC/Cape Canavera, or Jaxl. Far less (planes get out of the way quickly…. fishing boats do not. And airmen will read the NOTAMS…the lone fisherman fouling the range because they just won’t read the Notice to Mariners and are ignoring the radio was a constant in the SoCal ranges. We learned to adjust, but still, it was a crowded area.)

    In other words, it’s the range space that is perhaps the important thing, the valuable thing, not the launchpad. The offshore areas of the Georgia coast are probably just less crowded. That is the potential comparative advantage (in addition to being at a lower latitude than Wallops.) The disadvantage is that the Camden site has issues from a vertical launch perspective, for chemically-propelled rockets (debris on Cumberland Island)…but….

    …I bet the place would be great for launches offshore, for smaller outfits using aerial launch techniques (like White Knight, or that outfit out of Atlanta). Less chance of schedule delay due to range issues–both getting on the range schedule to start with, and with the range being fouled on day of mission. Your range services might cost less than the huge USAF machine down in Patrick. Use that niche to build up your range tracking, telemetry, and sea surveillance abilities, and then see what you could do in the outyears.

    My guess is if you can build up your range abilities, eventually, you might be able to convince the Navy to do its ballistic missile tests right off King’s Bay, and not transit down to Port Canaveral. Maybe, maybe not. Not a big transit, of course, for a Georgia-based boomer–but still, it is perhaps a day or two that Sailor Sam is not away from Mama/Papa (though Port Canaveral is one of the great little-known good deal port visits of the Navy), plus, you would have the ability to quickly just go back to King’s Bay for issues to get resolved if something doesn’t work (but will only take a day or so to repair.) But…I wouldn’t think the Navy would pay to duplicate the in-shore tracking and telemetry and range clearance abilities of Cape Canaveral/Patrick AFB, so you’d have to invest in that yourself. And your logical market to start with to do that is air-launch offshore, using horizontal take-off from a new Camden airport (one that avoids King’s Bay overflight), with range availability and relative cheapness and ease of use (compared to KSC/Cape Canaveral or Vandenburg) as your comparative advantages/selling points. In fact, there is no law saying you have to have an airport–a plane like Orbital’s L1011 could fly out of wherever–it is the local range tracking, telemetry, and clearance you need.

    Let vertical launch wait a bit, go with your strength, not your weakness. Build up the necessary infrastructure for the range, then build up your airport and on-site checkout facilities for air-launch, then do the next logical step. If possible (and it might not be.)

    But what do I know? I have no business sense. Still…being a “reliever launch port” for KSC, focusing on offshore air- and sea-launch, at a lower latitude than Wallops, in clearer, cheaper, and more available range times than KSC/Canaveral, might be the best use of the resources available, at minimal relative cost. Because as the anti-spaceport crowd is quite right to point out…most of these civilian efforts fall flat/never took off fully. Georgia does have a potential comparative advantage–spot on the East Coast (i.e., not limited to polar or high-inclination orbits), with the lowest latitude and clearest offshore air- and sea- range combination you are going to get on that coast. Or frankly, any spot in CONUS. It should use that resource well–do what it can, today, with what it has. And that probably means air-launch offshore, and expand as time and technology allow.Report


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