In the early days of the Spaceport Camden licensing, opponents noticed the FAA failed to follow established law and its own internal regulations and procedures. Those errors, omissions, contortions of facts, and hypothetical rockets gamed the system. Those abuses of authority came home to roost on Friday in a federal lawsuit against the FAA. The well-documented lawsuit seeks to vacate the Spaceport Camden license.
The lawsuit contains this outrageous slice of the Spaceport Camden scam:
“Plaintiff(s) also questioned Spaceport Camden’s commercial viability given the potential risk to the public, cost, and operating restrictions that would be required. In the presence of his colleagues, former [FAA] Associate Administrator (General Wayne) Monteith responded that Spaceport Camden was not a commercially viable launch site and that ‘some spaceports just want to sell hats and t-shirts.’” (Case 1:22-cv-01408, p.41.121) There's plenty more where that came from.
The bottom line is Camden taxpayers have “invested” $11,000,000 for a spaceport license the FAA knows cannot launch rockets in the “foreseeable future." Spaceport Camden license serves no purpose to the space industry.
The Commissioner’s Spaceport Project Lead, County Administrator Steve Howard has known for years that the project was seriously flawed and troubled. Here's just one example of the County's flawed interactions with the FAA that are found throughout the 84-page Complaint.
This is all just shameful behavior from a government agency.
The real issue is that Camden County Commissioners have been fooled by sources that had great stories to tell but had no demonstrated successes evidencing they could deliver on their spaceport promises. The Commissioners failed to ‘Trust – but Verify.’ That’s simply naïve, a symptom of laziness, self-centeredness, and a complete disregard for the public trust. And having lost the public trust, they are now paying lawyers with taxpayer money to overturn the March 8 Special Election spaceport promoters lost by a margin of almost 3 to 1.
That’s not the first time you’ve heard those strong charges from www.spaceportfacts.org. Those of us who've paid close attention to the unfolding FAA mess tried to raise the alarm. We even appealed to the Department of Transportation and the President's Council for Environmental Quality, but we did not have the lobbying funds necessary to offset Camden's lobbying and public relations expenses in excess of $2 million. It was inevitable that the FAA would be sued.
A Federal Agency that performed its job is the Department of Interior which strenuously objects to rocket launches over the Cumberland Island National Seashore which lies about 5-miles down range. The launch hazard zone will incorporate over 40 private residences, visitor-active camping, hiking and beach areas, and also the incredibly small and charmingly rustic First African Baptist Church, which had been established by slaves more than a century ago. The Church was the secret site of the 1996 wedding of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette. The structure, which is a National Historic Site, lies in the launch hazard zone for the only approved spaceport launch azimuth. The DOI/NPS objections were ignored by the FAA.
But the allure of the spaceport was too shiny for incautious commissioners. Washington lobbyists, and consultants with unknown deliverables were hired - one gets $33,000 a month! The list of beneficiaries of taxpayers' "investment" shows that more than 96% went out-of-state and has not produced a single space related job for Camden County.
The allure of the spaceport has been too shiny for incautious commissioners. They hired pricey Washington lobbyists and consultants with unknown deliverables - one gets $33,000 a month (over half a million dollars to date)! The list of beneficiaries of taxpayers' $11,000,000 "investment" shows that more than 96% went out of state and have not produced a single space-related job for Camden County.
Supposed promises from secret investors notwithstanding, spending one more dollar on the spaceport will be an irreversible breach of the County Commissioners' Oaths of Office.
While the Union Carbide Spaceport site purchase awaits a Georgia Supreme Court decision in September, the licensing legal action moves from Camden County to a Washington, DC federal district court where the plaintiffs seek to have the whole mess thrown out.
As this plays out, Camden County will have to decide if it wishes to spend perhaps another half a million dollars on even more for its own lawyers to intervene. The FAA's actions will determine if the agency can be trusted with any aspect of its dual mandate to both protect the public and to promote the launch industry. Just a few months before granting the Spaceport Camden Site license, General Monteith appeared in a Congressional Hearing touting the agency's safety record where he claimed:
"...we have never had a fatality or casualty or serious injury to the uninvolved public."
This statement, repeated throughout the Camden application period and in various forms in the FAA's Camden documents, is disingenuous since the FAA stops launches when the uninvolved public inadvertently intrudes into the evacuated downrange launch hazard zones. There have been numerous interrupted countdowns while the launch operator tried to clear a stray boat from downrange risk. Now, at Spaceport Camden - for the first time ever - the FAA intends to allow launches over known populations, private housing, and historic structures within 10 miles of the launch pad. So which will it be? The proven way or the 'let's try some risk at Spaceport Camden' way? The law doesn't allow the unproven way but Camden's license indicates the FAA will allow it.
The FAA Final Environmental Impact Statement continues the deception about launch safety for Spaceport Camden licensing. The Launch Failure section never addresses the risk of failed rocket debris impacting Cumberland Island National Seashore, private homes, or a member of the public.
(1) The FAA repeats its unrelated historic safety claim as if it applies to Spaceport Camden where rockets would launch for the first time ever over private residences, uninvolved third parties, historic structures, and a visitor-active National Seashore. The economic viability of Spaceport Camden will depend on a future launch provider being able to find affordable Maximum Probable Loss insurance for Camden launches when other spaceports have no similar risks to people or private property.
(2) At no point in this long paragraph, does the FAA state that debris from a rocket launch failure will fall on Cumberland or Little Cumberland Islands risking human casualties. In fact, although the paragraph describes the "5 to 7 seconds" where the debris would fall "beyond the island", there is no mention of the much longer preceding period where the failed rocket's debris (or an intact rocket) WILL fall on Cumberland Island National Seashore presenting a health and safety risk to people, structures, and the environment.
(3) The historic 15 percent failure rate mentioned by General Monteith in his 2021 presentation to Congress is not mentioned in the Final EIS. In fact, no failure rate is mentioned in the Launch Failures section. Similarly, the "representative rocket" used for the EIS is purported to be similar in "design and performance to a RocketLab[sic] Electron" but that is impossible since the Rocket Lab Electron is almost twice as powerful as Camden's fictional rocket. Additionally, no existing small-class rocket supports the Autonomous Flight Termination System that is assumed in Camden's license approval.
The Executive Summary of the Final EIS contains Table ES-1 summarizing the "Socioeconomics, Environmental Justice, and Children’s Environmental Health and Safety Risks."
Since the FAA has never knowingly launched over children, it has never established threshold criteria for impacts on children.
However, without study or evidence, the FAA confidently claims in the Executive Summary:
And this will be accomplished without evacuating the children, their parents, or their grandparents. In fact, the FEIS claims they can go about their normal activities. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard will restrict boat traffic on either side of the islands during launches because .... boats are more valuable than people and homes? That's just how disconnected the Spaceport Camden license is from reality and the law.
The FAA failed this mission and is being rightfully sued to reverse its decisions about Spaceport Camden.