FAA to Announce Whether Space Launchpad Can Be Built in Coastal Georgia

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to announce Monday whether it will permit the construction of a space launchpad in coastal Georgia.

The proposed Spaceport Camden in Georgia's Camden County would operate commercial flights into space, but operators would have to go through "many more reviews" for the green light to actually launch a rocket even if the FAA authorizes its construction.

If approved Monday, the site is expected to become home to the 13th licensed commercial spaceport in the U.S., but the FAA stressed in a letter released Friday that licensing Spaceport Camden "would not authorize a single launch."

A much more thorough analysis would have to take place for that to become a possibility.

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

The governmental transportation agency has pushed back the deadline for deciding on the launchpad several times. The FAA said in early November that it would give word on December 15, but it now says Monday is the new deadline.

Spacecraft
The proposed Spaceport Camden in Georgia’s Camden County would operate commercial flights into space, but operators would have to go through “many more reviews” for the green light to actually launch a rocket if the FAA authorizes its construction. Above, the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft blasts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the Moscow-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 8. Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

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 has sent increasing numbers of civilians and celebrities into space in recent months.

Critics contend the proposed site would endanger residents of the state's 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.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Spaceport
If approved Monday, a Georgia site could become home to the 13th licensed commercial spaceport in the U.S. Above, spectators gather to watch the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo space plane Unity take off at Spaceport America near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico, on July 11. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images