The FAA’s new schedule for Spaceport Camden means the ultimate decisions about licensing will be made in a Federal Courtroom rather than by the Federal Agency responsible for public safety and the environment.
The FAA still does not accept that their regulations were written and revised many times (as recently as 2016) with the default assumption that rocket launchpads would be ocean-fronting and that US citizens would be protected from unacceptable risk. The FAA has only licensed 356 launches since 1989. ZERO have been launched over near-downrange populations. For two years, the FAA has stonewalled FOIA requests for information they have accumulated about debris fields within 10 miles of the launch pad. It's likely they don't have the data because most debris falls into the ocean. They just do not know how much stuff has fallen four to 10 miles downrange, and how much of that debris was on fire. There have been a total of 14 orbital launches of small class liquid-fueled rockets. The FAA is being rushed to approve Spaceport Camden but recent launches from Kennedy Space Center, Kodiak, and Wallops have been postponed or canceled due to the intrusion of a single boat in the downrange hazard zone many miles downrange.
Last Friday, Astra's third launch from Kodiak crashed when its guidance control failed, the engines flamed-out, and the rocket tumbled to earth, exploding on impact BEHIND the launch pad. The spaceport and the FAA have kept the exact location of the impact a secret. Why? Astra has had 3 rockets explode after 3 launches for a 100% failure rate. One additional Astra rocket was destroyed on the launch pad during a fueling test fire. That makes them ZERO successful launches for all attempts. Astra is a prospective user for Spaceport Camden.
Camden County proposes to put out rocket fires like this on our off-shore islands using an ATV towing a 500 gallon water tank (20 minute supply) that's refilled from a well.
Using theoretical equations to justify launching over near-downrange populations and private property takes a first-time leap-of-faith by the FAA. FAA/AST Chief Engineer Paul Wilde has written that the calculation methodology results in errors of up to three orders of magnitude (1,000x) depending on the variables chosen. Analyses of the same launch performed by different operators result in in different outcomes. Wilde wrote in the FAA Flight Safety Analysis Handbook, Version 1.0, Sept 2011, (last paragraph page 189,) “The evidence is that risk estimates of the same mission by different computer programs, and by different organizations, can vary significantly – and in the extreme as much as three orders of magnitude (1,000 times).” Wilde discusses “biases” at length indicating subjectivity, not empirical data, controls the equations. Garbage In, Garbage Out might work when you launch over the ocean that’s cleared of boats. It’s just plain garbage when applied to launches over residences and private property and a national park unit.
Also, more generally, “The Columbia [Space Shuttle] Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) found that, “building and launching rockets is still a very dangerous business, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future while we gain experience at it. It is unlikely that launching a space vehicle will ever be as routine an undertaking as commercial air travel – certainly not in the lifetime of anybody who reads this.” Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), CAIB Report, GPO, Washington, DC, August 2003. Yet statistically, the FAA has determined that the acceptable risk limit to non-involved third parties at Spaceport Camden should be one in a million per rocket launch rather than the accepted risk of fatality one in a million risk over an entire 75-Year lifetime to a US citizen from all sources of Uncontrollable Aviation Accidents. These statistics alone prove that rockets are at least 75 times more dangerous than "background risk."
Here's the calculations:
Had the FAA followed the law, its own processes, and FAA Order 1050.1(f) instructions, it would not have made so many substantive errors and omissions in 2015 to 2018. They would not be in the position of needing to use political pressure and loopholes to avoid accountability for their failure to protect the public. Now, they’ve made the choice of forcing the public to sue rather than to voluntarily admit they made fundamental mistakes during Scoping and in producing the Draft EIS.
A major point of interest. General Monteith’s letter last week relies on the June 4, 2020 Presidential Executive Order 13927 on Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery from the COVID-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities. It requires the FAA to “take all appropriate steps to use their lawful emergency authorities and other authorities to respond to the national emergency and to facilitate the Nation’s economic recovery…” and to “take all reasonable measures to speed infrastructure investments and to speed other actions in addition to such investments that will strengthen the economy and return Americans to work.” Spaceport Camden has no publicly-released infrastructure budget, nor any way to pay for infrastructure. Camden has presented only a single discredited “Spaceport Economic Summary” indicating that in their best case analysis 77 jobs might result. Other commercial rocket spaceports do not support that many direct jobs in total. Kodiak spaceport budgets FOUR spaceport employees. Astra sent only SIX employees from California to launch their rocket. The fiction of national interest in small rocket launch at under-utilized spaceports is being used to justify accelerating a modified EIS/ROD process that eliminates further public input despite aggressive errors and omissions in the application and the inherent faults throughout the process. The Presidental Order obviously means "meaningful and immediate economic development." The FAA’s reliance on barely-existent claims of spaceport economic benefit based on unreliable/untested rockets will be challenged since in itself, the abbreviated schedule is a game-changing “decision.”
Irrespective of changes in the political atmosphere (which can be changed again after the upcoming election) the FAA still has to follow the law. Since Spaceport Camden licensing is a serious environmental concern that could open the flood gates for lots of unnecessary spaceports in other crackpot locations, we expect deep-pocket national environmental group allies will join the fight. The outcome will be the already evidenced dearth of other industrial development since Camden is “all in” on spaceport. And the effort will surely deplete Camden’s ability to pay other bills and provide real increases in income for current workers that would have an immediate economic impact.
Multiple bottom lines:
The FAA’s decision will accelerate the lawsuits. Camden taxpayers will pay lawyers.
There remains no evidence that Spaceport Camden will be of economic benefit to Camden County or the State of Georgia.
Camden taxpayers foot the entire bill.
Taxpayers will own contaminated property that’s now the responsibility of Union Carbide.
Few, if any, jobs will be created for Camden citizens.
Camden County voters will soon receive an Petition in the mail that can stop this “Spaceport To No Where." Be sure to sign it, and to have your friends sign, too. For more information: www.spaceportpetition.org