Sometime late today, if everything goes right, Firefly Aerospace will make their first launch attempt ever.
Firefly is a company with roots, investment, engineering, and supply chain in Ukraine. But because it is technically US-based, they received an FAA-license to attempt their first launch from a converted launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base. The Alpha rocket has been under development since 2014 by the former Firefly Space Systems that failed in bankruptcy. Firefly has never launched a rocket.
What makes this interesting for Spaceport Camden followers is that the Alpha is classified as a small-lift launch vehicle (SLV), just like Spaceport Camden’s “representative” rocket. However, like the Astra Rocket 3.3 and the Rocket Lab Electron, the Alpha rocket was not used for the Spaceport Camden risk or environmental analysis. The FAA allowed Camden to use a fictional rocket that is about half the size of the smallest rocket under actual development. The real Firefly Alpha rocket (or any real rocket) was not used to analyze Spaceport Camden. Camden's rocket is in no way "representative" of real rockets. That is why the FAA has admitted that there is no rocket for Spaceport Camden in the “foreseeable future.”
Here's a table showing all the US SLV rockets, their relative size, and their status:
The Alpha has EIGHT times greater thrust than Camden's micro rocket. Yet it is only about one-half the size of the largest rocket that would fall into the SLV class should one ever be built. The FAA has never explained why they will issue a useless site license. Because just like a number of the licensed spaceports already scattered around the US, there’s nothing to launch and not even enough demand to keep the operational rockets busy.
Even worse, the US Coast Guard has exposed what we consider is the fatal flaw in the FAA’s actions to approve Spaceport Camden. Camden's tiny “representative” rocket has been assigned tiny risk impacts. "Assigned" because no one has ever built the rocket. The rocket was computer "designed" by Camden's consultants to meet the safety and environmental limitations of Spaceport Camden. So the FAA plays along by saying the make-believe rocket is not a risk to start forest fires because they agree with Camden's contention the tiny, fictional rocket, cannot fail. Of course, such a rocket has never existed, but the FAA assumes Spaceport Camden will get the very first perfect rocket.
Here's the Coast Guard’s Launch Hazard/Exclusion Zone (LHA) for today’s Firefly launch attempt from California:
The Lompoc-Surf Beach AMTRAK station at Vandenberg Space Force Base will be closed for the launch. It lies 6 miles south of the launch trajectory. In fact, the AMTRAK train will not run for a few hours before the launch until after the rocket threat ends, a 4-to-6-hour closure that is similar to the closing of our intercoastal waterway for Camden launches. We're told the beaches and Wilderness of Cumberland Island will remain open, yet launches from Vandenberg close every beach, every time. 5,772 square miles of ocean are declared an exclusion zone for boats. If the launch attempt is delayed today, the Coast Guard will close everything down again tomorrow.
The reason they can do such a launch at Vandenberg is that the Department of Defense OWNS all of the land
that will be closed and the Coast Guard can close all the ocean required. That's the fatal deficiency of Spaceport Camden, Spaceport Camden does not control the land and tidal waters they need so they invented a risk-free micro rocket for licensing.
The LHA is 30 miles wide at the same distance from the launch pad as Cumberland Island’s beach. If the launch were to occur from Spaceport Camden, the hazard zone would extend from The King & Prince on Saint Simons Island, across all of Jekyll Island's beachfront, to the southernmost tip of Cumberland Island and then 240 miles into the Atlantic. Such a rocket would never be accepted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Jekyll Island Authority, the National Park Service, the Department of Defense, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the NEPA Act, or the public.
Meanwhile, virtually everything we were told by the so-called “experts” has proven mystical. SpaceX and Blue Origin are not coming to Camden County. Neither will Rocket Lab, Astra, or Firefly because they would have to conduct new Environmental Impact Statements for each of their larger rockets. There's already plenty of launch capacity at other spaceports for them. One off-course rocket towards Jekyll Island or Kings Bay shuts the spaceport down forever. Why risk the headlines and lawsuits from killing a few US citizens or starting fires in the maritime forests on Cumberland Island National Seashore when they can launch directly over the ocean where those risks simply don't exist?
Makes one wonder why our County Commissioners seek a site license approval for a non-existent rocket?
Don't they have a legal fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers? It's long past time to investigate. Is there a real District Attorney to be found?