In the history of U.S. space flight, neither NASA nor the FAA have permitted a vertical launch over private homes or people directly downrange. The risk to people and property from an exploding rocket is too great. But that may soon change if a private launch facility across from Georgia’s Cumberland Island National Seashore is approved.
Cumberland and Little Cumberland Islands have just become the first communities in America to be directly downrange from a vertical launch spaceport awaiting license approval from the FAA. Hikers and campers on Cumberland Island National Seashore would be endangered by the proposed launch site, and more than sixty private homes lie in the path of rockets that Camden County commissioners hope someday to launch.
On January 29, the Camden County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners filed an application to launch commercial/non-federal rockets over the Cumberland Island National Seashore and Little Cumberland Island. Camden County’s proposal to launch vertical rockets over people and their homes is without precedent in the United States.
According to the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed spaceport, rocket failures are reasonably expected to occur every 18 months (a 6 percent stated failure rate with 12 proposed launches each year). It will only take one rocket failure to completely destroy Little Cumberland Island and the northern end of Cumberland Island.
“What other national park or neighborhood in America faces the prospect of destruction every 1.5 years as a result of the actions of its own local government?” asks Rebecca Lang, a resident of Little Cumberland Island.
Aerospace Corp. was engaged to analyze the risks associated with launching rockets from the proposed site, but Camden County has refused to make the results of the analysis public.
Little Cumberland Island Homes Association, Inc., the Southern Environmental Law Center, and other groups and individuals have submitted Georgia Open Records Act requests for public disclosure of the risk analysis for the proposed spaceport. Camden County denied the requests, relying on an inapplicable exception to Open Records Act. This risk analysis contains impact dispersion diagrams of debris fields from rocket explosions all over the National Seashore and the homes of its residents.
Little Cumberland Island is within the boundaries of the Cumberland Island National Seashore and is home to the longest running Loggerhead Sea Turtle Research program in the world. The Little Cumberland Lighthouse was built in 1838 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cumberland Island National Seashore attracts 50,000 hikers and campers each year and is a United Nations Global Biosphere Reserve.
For more information on the threats that Spaceport Camden poses to Cumberland Island National Seashore, visit ProtectCumberlandIsland.org.