January 7, 2020
Camden County Commission Chairman Jimmy Starline
Camden County Administrator Steve Howard
Spaceport Expert Consultant Andrew Nelson
Since July 2015, Camden County taxpayers have paid Andrew Nelson more than one million dollars in public funds to provide professional consultation on the Spaceport Camden project. Mr. Nelson serves as Camden’s "spaceport subject matter expert," and also as the intermediary between other consultants and the FAA. Recent events and FOIA-disclosed FAA communications reveal that much of the consulting work on Spaceport Camden has proven fruitless. Small rockets have long been in your plan as attested to in your heavily publicized interest in Vector, ABL Space, and the Georgia Tech Rocket Club. Small rocket analysis is evidenced in emails with the FAA dating back to 2017 and small rockets were mentioned in the Executive Summary of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement in 2018. Your last-second move in December to change the scope of your license application indicates extremely late recognition that you have had poor advice and that project leadership has made poor decisions wasting millions of dollars.
The public is entitled to your answers to the following questions:
Camden County has stated many times that Spaceport Camden could legally launch Medium-lift and Medium-Large-lift rockets. Camden taxpayers paid Mr. Nelson for the recently promoted Flight Safety Analysis For Spaceport Camden, which allegedly proved Camden’s arguments that launching such rockets over Cumberland and Little Cumberland Islands met FAA regulations.
After more than four years of your spaceport assertions, why did the FAA disagree with your safety claims? Is the FAA wrong?
FAA definitions controlling launch safety are simple to understand:
Flight Hazard Area means any region of land, sea, or air that must be surveyed, publicized, controlled, or evacuated to protect public health and safety and the safety of property.
Flight Safety Limit means criteria to ensure that public safety is protected from the flight of a vehicle when a flight safety system functions properly.
Flight Safety System (FSS) means a system used to implement flight abort when Flight Safety Limits are violated.
Gate means the portion of a flight safety limit boundary through which the tracking icon of a vehicle flown with a flight safety system may pass without flight abort, provided the flight remains within specified parameters.
Overflight Exclusion Zone (OEZ) means a portion of a flight corridor which must remain clear of the public during the flight of a launch vehicle.
Public means people and property that are not involved in supporting a licensed or permitted launch.
Protected Area means an area of land not controlled by a launch operator that:
Is a populated area [i.e., Cumberland and Little Cumberland Islands];
Is environmentally sensitive [i.e., Cumberland Island Wilderness and National Seashore]; or
Contains a vital national asset [i.e., Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base].
Furthermore, the FAA responded on January 3, 2020, to a Freedom of Information Act request stating that “there is no specific legal definition of “Authorized Person.” The Spaceport Camden Draft EIS uses the term Authorized Person(s) to refer to “residents, vacation house owners and permit-holding campers, NPS personnel” on Cumberland and Little Cumberland Islands. According to the Draft EIS, "Authorized Persons" could remain in the hazard zones. Mr. Nelson acknowledged in his July 2018 “Clarification” letter to Camden’s Washington DC attorney, “As noted earlier, the use of the term ‘authorized personnel’ was originally a term of convenience used by Spaceport Camden.” The disputed term used in the Spaceport Camden Draft EIS is “Authorized Person(s).” For whatever reason, Nelson further confused the issue in his “clarification” to our attorney by conflating “authorized personnel” with “authorized person.” The FAA defines the term “authorized personnel” as “parties involved or supporting launch operations who are authorized to remain in hazardous areas as part of their jobs.” The term does not apply to the public. It appears that Mr. Nelson was aware that “Authorized Person(s)” does not exist in the FAA lexicon or regulations.
Did you create “Authorized Person(s)” in an attempt to justify first-time-ever intentional overflight of the public in near-downrange hazard areas?
You have repeatedly claimed that the proposed Spaceport Camden Overflight Exclusion Zone did not extend onto populated areas. In 2017, Mr. Nelson claimed in a rebuttal letter to Mr. Dick Parker that the FAA had already approved overflight of homes present in the “two-mile safety arc” at Wallops Island spaceport. Wallops requires a 10,000-foot (not two-mile, 10,560-foot) “hazard” arc around the launch pad used for medium-lift rockets. All homes are located more than 10,000 feet behind the launch pad. The Wallops Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement states, “The public would not be allowed within the hazard arc; no populations would be located within the 3,050 m (10,000 ft) hazard arc.”
As you know, all at-risk properties and residents in Camden County are located in front of the launch pads in downrange protected areas and acknowledged spaceport hazard areas.
Furthermore, Mr. Nelson included Exhibit A2-13 in his July 2018 “Clarification” letter to Camden’s Washington DC attorney, along with exhaustive explanations purporting to prove that the Overflight Exclusion Zone, where no uninvolved third-parties can be present, for Spaceport Camden did not extend over populated areas.
In section 3.4 of the October 2019 confusingly-qualified “ITAR-approved” Flight Safety Analysis For Spaceport Camden, you released to Camden citizens another image and dialog demonstrating that the Overflight Exclusion Zone, where no uninvolved third-parties can be present, did not reach populated areas.
However, the FAA’s October 17, 2019, 120-Day letter to County Administrator Steve Howard states, “Camden County's application includes populated areas within an overflight exclusion zone.”
Were you wrong, or was the FAA wrong about Overflight Exclusion Zones in documents supporting the Camden Launch Site Operators License?
Q4 CONTEXT: The FAA has concluded that the Conditional Expected Casualty (CEC) metric for the consequence from reasonably foreseeable failures provides an appropriate means to assess the need for prudent mitigations of risks to public health and safety and the safety of property. CEC calculations assume the chance of a dangerous event is 100%. Unlike the Expected Casualty (Ec) metric that determines the expected casualties after factoring in a subjective probability for each reasonably foreseeable dangerous event that could occur, CEC determines the expected casualties and property damage assuming the hazardous event will occur. CEC is a worst-case scenario metric.
A launch company would have to prove that the CEC risk is lower than 1:1000 to avoid using a Flight Termination System to abort a non-nominal launch. The Part § 450.105 regulation requiring an early Preliminary Safety Assessment for Flight requires the CEC calculation.
Camden has never shown a CEC result for Spaceport Camden.
What is the CEC for the small-lift class rocket used in the calculations provided to the FAA for the small-lift class rocket in the original and modified Spaceport Camden Launch Site operator's License applications?
The FAA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for 2020 creates 14CFR§450 to consolidate and revise existing regulatory parts into a single set of licensing and safety regulations controlling rocket launch activities. Because the new and revised regulations address all safety issues in a harmonized set, rather than multiple, occasionally conflicting regulations, it is unlikely the FAA would license a spaceport that launches over near-downrange “protected areas” such as exist in Camden County. The new regulations are likely to extinguish the possibility of licensing Spaceport Camden for commercial launches of any size rocket. The rule-making also mandates important elements that have not been addressed publicly in the Spaceport Camden safety review.
A significant change is the proposed public safety criteria in § 450.101(c) that requires an operator to use flight abort as a hazard control strategy. A rocket will have to be equipped with a Flight Termination System (FTS, also referred to as a Flight Safety System) if the consequence of any reasonably foreseeable vehicle response mode, in any one second of flight, exceeds one in one-thousand [1:1,000] Conditional Expected Casualties (CEC) to the public. FTS aborts the rocket by either shutting off the engines allowing the rocket to fall intact to earth (called ‘thrust termination’) or by explosive destruction of the rocket (‘explosive vehicle destruction’).
Does the small-class rocket used in trajectory safety studies for the Spaceport Camden Launch Site Operators License and the Environmental Impact Statement use ‘thrust termination,’ or does it use ‘explosive vehicle destruction’ as its means of flight abort?
Q6 CONTEXT: According to Paul Wilde, Chief Engineer of the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, FAA regulations require the use of “gates” when a rocket travels over populated areas. A gate is a critical decision point that ensures tolerable public risks. If a rocket is not performing within certain predefined conditions indicating an ability to continue safe flight, then the Flight Termination System must be activated to protect the downrange populations and property from impacts of hazardous debris and chemicals.
The example given in Figure 2 of Mr. Wilde’s March 2019 IAASS presentation is for launches from Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Spaceport that overfly portions of South America. Rockets will have expended and dropped their first stages before they reach South American coasts more than 3,500 miles downrange, therefore South America is only threatened by smaller upper stages. In Figure 2, no Flight Safety System terminations are allowed in the green hashed area. An abort decision must be made before the rocket enters the green horizontal line indicating the South American “gate” so that the resulting debris does not fall into casualty-risk areas beyond the gate. A similar “gate” exists for rockets entering African and European airspace from US Atlantic coast launch sites.
The FAA must provide the same protection to US citizens and property, so we assume the same rules will define a “Cumberland gate” for Cumberland Island and Little Cumberland Islands.
Please provide a drawing showing the location of the “gate” for a small-lift class rocket on the 100-degree trajectory from Spaceport Camden that will prevent island casualties and property damage from flight termination.
Q7 & Q8 CONTEXT: A decision to abort a malfunctioning rocket or dangerous trajectory must be made within the first few seconds of launch to avoid AFTS termination debris hazards over our offshore islands, Cumberland Island National Seashore, or Kings Bay. It would be a so-called “Catch-22”, a lose-lose situation for Camden County. Any termination will result in rocket debris, fuel, and hazardous materials landing as wreckage somewhere in State waters, the National Seashore, or on private property. Even if no casualties result, such an event can be an environmental disaster for Camden County.
What is the volume (mass or percentage) of debris that will be allowed to fall into Georgia-owned tidal marshes, on the landmass of Cumberland Island National Seashore, or Little Cumberland Island?
Why were flight termination-initiated environmental and human health impacts for rockets of any size not investigated in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement?
Q9 CONTEXT: The December 16, 2019, FAA Tolling Letter to Camden County identifies these issues that remained outstanding more than one year after the previously-postponed October 2018 Final EIS deadline and almost one year after Camden first submitted its Launch Site Operator’s License application:
⦁ "Fire - A launch accident may cause an uncontrollable fire on LCI or Big Cumberland Island. Access to LCI for firefighting and egress from LCI for evacuation are limited.
⦁ "U.S. National Security - The Department of Defense (DoD) has concerns that the proximity of launch operations to a vital U.S. Navy base might jeopardize foreign policy or national security interests of the United States.
⦁ "Environmental Assessment - Camden County has not completed the environmental Impact Statement review process."
None of these specifically relate to the size of the rocket.
Why does correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act between the FAA and Mr. Nelson, Spaceport Project Lead Steve Howard, or Jimmy Starline reveal that Camden has been unable or unwilling to resolve the issues mentioned in the Tolling Letter?
Q10 CONTEXT: After years of negotiations between Camden County and the FAA, and despite your repeated assurances to the public, the following statement from Kenneth Wong, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation indicates that Camden has not convinced the FAA that there are legal solutions to licensing problems:
“Even with the proposed narrowing of your application scope [to launch small rockets], there is no assurance the FAA will make a favorable license determination in view of the issues raised above.” Kenneth Wong, manager of FAA Licensing and Evaluation Division
The retrenchment to small rockets is a compelling admission of nearly five years of failure. Why should Camden County taxpayers continue to “invest” in Spaceport Camden?