Launchpad Approved for Coastal Georgia, But Hurdles Remain Before Rockets Can Launch

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved a launchpad for commercial rockets for coastal Georgia on Monday, but even with the license granted to Spaceport Camden, a more comprehensive review must be conducted before any rockets launch.

The FAA said it looked at possible effects on the climate and environment, public comments, and the agency's responsibility to encourage and promote commercial spaces launches from the private sector in its 36-page decision released Monday.

The spaceport would be situated on land about 7 nautical miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

"Sea level rise and other climatological changes, such as increase in extreme weather events, may affect the spaceport in the coming years," the FAA wrote in its report.

The FAA also discussed protections for small animals, such as the eastern black rail, a marsh bird, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service have voiced concerns regarding the project.

The Interior Department wrote of letter to the FAA on July 22, saying the possibility of rockets exploding, causing debris to fall on wilderness on Cumberland Island, is an "unacceptable risk." Cumberland Island is a popular tourist attraction off the Georgia coast, home to wild horses and has nesting sea turtles.

Opponents filed a lawsuit to block Camden County from buying land for the spaceport. A petition, signed by around 3,800 people, calls for a referendum that would allow voters to decide if the county can purchase the property.

"Virtually from the start, the FAA's review of Spaceport Camden has been fraught with factual mistakes and legal errors," Brian Gist, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement Monday. "We will carefully review the FAA's decision to ensure that it fully complies with all applicable laws."

Federal Aviation Administration, Launchpad Approval, Spaceport Camden
The Federal Aviation Administration-approved Spaceport Camden in Georgia would be on land about 7 nautical miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Above, space shuttle Atlantis arcs into the sky over the Atlantic Ocean, casting a fiery glow after its early morning liftoff July 12, 2001, at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Photo Courtesy of NASA/Getty Images

A Camden County leader said Monday that the project propels Georgia into the space race that's seen civilians and celebrities flown into space in recent months.

"This once in a generation opportunity will provide a new frontier of economic prosperity for Camden, the region, and the state of Georgia," Steve Howard, Camden County Administrator and Spaceport Camden executive project lead, said in a statement after the FAA's decision was announced.

"Georgia is part of the new space race, and we will become one of the leaders," Howard added.

Camden County has spent nearly 10 years and $10 million on the project.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Federal Aviation Administration, Launchpad Approval, Spaceport Camden
A petition, signed by about 3,800 people, calls for a referendum that would allow voters to decide if Camden County, Georgia, can purchase the property needed for Spaceport Camden. Above, the Space Launch System solid rocket booster motor cools down after a test fire at Northrop Grumman's test facility in Promontory, Utah, on September 2, 2020. George Frey/AFP via Getty Images