A longtime critic of a proposed spaceport in Camden County believes the odds of a commercial rocket launch are now “one in a million.”
Steve Weinkle, who lives less than 10 miles from the proposed spaceport, said the project was already in trouble before the county chose to revise its application to the Federal Aviation Administration in December.
Camden is changing its focus to small launch vehicles, which county officials said pose fewer environmental and safety concerns.
“Given the regulatory uncertainty and shift in the potential market, Spaceport Camden determined it must focus on the interest from the small launch operators,” said Bob Hope, a spaceport spokesman for the county.
But Weinkle said the FAA’s restriction to one launch trajectory from the site, and Camden’s decision to change its application, are only part of the problem.
In a letter sent to Camden County Commission Chairman Jimmy Starline on Dec. 16 in response to the revised application, FAA officials agreed to amend the application. But the letter also raised concerns that “have not yet been satisfactorily resolved,” by county officials.
Among the concerns are the potential for uncontrollable fires on Cumberland and Little Cumberland islands from a launch accident, completion of the environmental review process and concerns by the Department of Defense that the close proximity of launch operations near Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay might “jeopardize foreign policy or nation security interests of the United States.”
Even with limitation of one launch trajectory from the site, Weinkle said the national security concerns remain high because of requirements to have a flight termination system on rockets.
If a rocket malfunctions after launch and has to be blown up, the concern debris could land in occupied areas including the Navy base.
Hope, however, said Camden County’s application for medium-large launch vehicles with a first-stage return “would meet all applicable safety requirements, even when conservative assumptions are used.”
“Camden County believes that narrowing the application to include operation of only small launch vehicles with no first-stage returns is more consistent with the types of operations that will be conducted at Spaceport Camden and will streamline the review process with the FAA,” he said.
“We look forward to working with the FAA on small launch vehicles to demonstrate strong compliance with the FAA regulations.”