FAA: Georgia spaceport decision near, but more study needed

Dec 17, 2021, 10:04 AM | Updated: 2:39 pm

KINGSLAND, Ga. (AP) — A federal agency expects to announce its decision Monday on whether to allow a launchpad that would send commercial rockets into space from coastal Georgia.

However, the Federal Aviation Administration is emphasizing that a license authorizing Camden County to operate a spaceport would not yet permit the launch of any rockets.

In a letter released Friday by the FAA, the agency said a more comprehensive review would be needed before any rockets can be launched from Georgia.

Even if the license for Spaceport Camden is approved, “it would not authorize a single launch,” an FAA executive wrote to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“Simply put: to obtain a Vehicle Operator License, many more reviews remain, and no outcome is guaranteed,” the letter stated.

Any company seeking to launch from the site would need to obtain a Vehicle Operator License and undergo a separate environmental and safety evaluation, according to the FAA.

Camden County, in the southeastern corner of the state, has spent nearly 10 years and $10 million pursuing the goal of having what would be the nation’s newest commercial spaceport.

Supporters say it would give the county a huge economic boost and allow Georgia to join the commercial space race that’s sent increasing numbers of civilians and celebrities into space in recent months.

Critics contend the proposed site would endanger residents of Little Cumberland Island, which has about 40 homes, though few people live there year round, and visitors to federally protected Cumberland Island, which lie in the planned flight path for rockets.

“We have collaborated with the FAA, providing critical input aimed at protecting the visitors, staff and nationally significant resources entrusted to our care,” Gary Ingram, superintendent of Cumberland Island National Seashore, said in a statement Friday. “We remain committed to working with the FAA to adequately address remaining concerns about adverse impacts to the park.”

Opponents have gone to court to try to block the county from purchasing land where the spaceport would be built. About 3,800 people have signed a petition calling for a referendum that would let voters decide whether the county can buy the property.

The National Park Service and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior, also have expressed concerns.

In a July 22 letter to the FAA, the Interior Department said a chance of rockets exploding — with fiery debris raining down on wilderness land on Cumberland Island — creates an “unacceptable risk.” Cumberland Island, with its wild horses and nesting sea turtles, is a popular tourist area off the Georgia coast.

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FAA: Georgia spaceport decision near, but more study needed