WOODBINE — For the first time in 50 years, a rocket engine will be fired in Camden County next week.
The Federal Aviation Administration has approved a permit for Vector Space Systems to conduct a low- altitude launch on Thursday of a full-scale prototype of the company’s Vector-R launch vehicle.
The rocket will be launched from the site of a proposed spaceport, the same location in Camden County where NASA tested solid-fuel rocket engines in the 1960s.
One reason for making the announcement early is to address any public concerns, said John Simpson, a county spokesman.
“We don’t want people concerned this is a missile heading to (Naval Submarine Base) Kings Bay,” he said.
No target altitude has been announced, but Simpson said the rocket will travel at least several thousand feet high. The trajectory will take the rocket straight up and straight down, so there are no concerns about safety to surrounding areas.
“Everything stays within the confines of the launch area,” said County Administrator Steve Howard.
Vector hasn’t revealed how the rocket will return to earth.
There are no homes within miles of the site, so there are few concerns about public safety to address, officials said. The FAA requires Vector to ensure the launch does not create a hazard to people, property or other aircraft.
“There are lots of buffers around the site,” Howard said. “There will be no disruption to citizens.”
A safety zone will also be established to keep any interested onlookers far enough away that they won’t be in potential harm’s way.
“The coordination, effort behind the scenes is enormous,” Howard said. “We consider this a major milestone for Spaceport Camden.”
Simpson said a five-hour launch window will be available from early morning to mid afternoon, but he couldn’t give a specific time for the launch. Cloud cover, air traffic and other factors will determine when the launch is held.
More details about the test launch will be released this week, Simpson said.
The Vector-R rocket used in the test launch will eventually be capable of launching small payloads to an orbit nearly 500 miles above Earth.
Currently, smaller payloads must typically share rides to space on larger rockets, and companies cannot count on a launch date. Instead of being treated as excess cargo, Vector plans to launch small satellites within three months of demand, according to the company’s website.
Vector will launch these small payloads for $2 to $3 million into any desired orbit from Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska or Cape Canaveral, Fla., with perhaps Camden County being a launch site in the future, depending on the outcome of an ongoing FAA study.