by Douglas Messier
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had again delayed a decision on the controversial Spaceport Camden project in Georgia due to ongoing consultation efforts. The agency’s moved its target date for issuing a Record of Decision (ROD) from Nov. 3 to Dec. 15. It’s the latest in a series of delays for a spaceport that Camden County officials have been attempting to develop for nine years.
Spaceport Camden is designed for small satellite launches. It is a controversial project because the rockets would fly over Little Cumberland Island, where there are residences and recreational areas that are part of the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Although backers say flights can be conducted safely, residents with homes on the island have strongly opposed the plan on that basis.
Launching orbital rockets over populated areas is done in Russia and China, but not in the United States. Existing American spaceports are located on the coastline, not inland where Spaceport Camden would be situated.
The Savannah Morning News published opinion pieces earlier this week by a supporter and an opponent of the the project. Gary Blount, chairman of the Camden County Board of Commissioners, argued that the spaceport would give the county a badly needed economic shot in the arm.
Camden has become a one-dimensional economy that is still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. Even today, our tax digest is still below its 2007 highs. Camden County desperately needs an economic shot in the arm.
The emergence of the commercial space race has renewed interest in Camden County’s aerospace heritage. Our southern latitude, talent from transitioning military and substantial road and rail infrastructure make Camden the ideal location to meet growing launch demand from the commercial space industry – a $447 billion industry that Bank of America predicts will grow to $3 trillion by 2047.
The economic impact of Spaceport Camden to the Georgia Coastal Region is immense. A similar project proposed by Space Florida in Volusia County estimated the development of a new launch pad in Florida would result in 1,250 new jobs and a $175 million economic impact for the same 12 launches per year proposed at Spaceport Camden.
A further study by Georgia Southern University Center for Business Analytics and Economic Research (CBEAR), anticipated that each launch (12 per year) would result in 4,000 to 5,000 visitors to the region. This influx of tourism would generate $2.8-3.6 million dollars in economic output to the hospitality and tourism industry.
County resident Steve Weinkle argued against the project in an op-ed titled, Spaceport Camden is a scam on multiple fronts.” In addition to safety concerns, Weikle questions whether anything would actually get launched from the facility.
The Federal Aviation Administration has failed to prove that Spaceport Camden can launch any rocket, serve any national purpose, or fulfill Camden County’s economic development speculation. Taxpayers have spent $11 million on it so far with nothing to show.
The spaceport originally planned to launch workhorse rockets like the SpaceX Falcon 9. It has been downsized to a tiny fictional rocket that does not exist. In fact, all three existing licensed small class rockets are twice to 10 times larger than the spaceport license approves. They could not be used for licensing qualification.
The executive director of the FAA’s Safety Office recently admitted he, “[…] has no information sufficient to support an environmental review of an actual launch vehicle at this time or in the foreseeable future.”
The “foreseeable future” is a long way out there.
Camden County officials have not revealed what boosters would fly from the facility.