Dec 21, 2021 - News

Georgia gets a spaceport. But not rockets... yet.

Rendering of a spaceport

Rendering of Spaceport Camden courtesy of the Camden County Board of Commissioners

Camden County on the Georgia coast just secured the country’s 13th commercial spaceport operator license from the FAA.

  • But any actual rocket launches will require additional licenses from the agency.

Why it matters: Communities are trying to cash in on the rise of private spaceflight as companies work to launch people and satellites into orbit.

Yes, but: For years, opponents of Spaceport Camden have argued that this unprecedented site, which proposes sending vertical launch rockets over a popular National Park and private homes, amounts to a boondoggle that will not actually translate into economic impact.

Catch up quick: Camden began its quest for a spaceport license in 2012 in the name of diversifying the region’s economy. The project has weathered multiple delays and persistent opposition.

Who’s against it? The National Park Service formally opposed the project, saying it poses “unacceptable risk” to Cumberland Island National Seashore.

  • Some county residents and environmental advocates are trying to force a referendum on the county’s intention to purchase the land for the proposed spaceport.
  • Opposition has centered on the risk of fire to private homes and the National Seashore from rocket debris and concerns about wasteful spending by the county.

Of note: FAA administrator Wayne Monteith sent the Park Service a letter late last week appearing to try to assuage the agency’s concerns by clarifying that “to obtain a vehicle operator license, many more reviews remain, and no outcome is guaranteed,” Monteith wrote. [hyperlink letter]

The big picture: The FAA has a dual mandate, to both regulate and promote commercial space. Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, chair of the House transportation committee, has said Spaceport Camden is further evidence it’s time to enable the agency to be more discriminatory about where spaceports are located.

  • “Everybody wants a spaceport,” he told Marketplace. “And everybody can’t have a spaceport. It’s not safe.”

What they’re saying: Steve Howard, Camden County’s administrator and longtime spokesperson for the project, said the “once in a generation opportunity will provide a new frontier of economic prosperity for Camden, the region and the state of Georgia.”

The other side: Kevin Lang, vice president of the Little Cumberland Island Homes Association, said the organization intends to sue the FAA for its “procedural and substantive errors” in enforcing the National Environmental Policy Act and its own regulations. 

  • Brian Gist, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who has filed several suits over open records related to the project, said they will “carefully review the FAA’s decision to ensure that it fully complies with all applicable laws.”

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