With the Federal Aviation Administration’s release of a draft environmental assessment, Georgia’s spaceport is now approaching the approval phase. The report was authored by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. It was released late last week. It, like all environmental assessments, examined the potential impact constructing the spaceport and launching spacecraft is likely to have on the environment.
The proposal includes the development of a vertical launch site, a landing pad, launch control buildings, and other support buildings. Developers hope that the spaceport could host as many as 12 launches per year, each with small to medium sized payloads. When drafting the report, the authors did not use one particular launch vehicle, instead preferring a digitally created representative design. This flexibility means that their research applies to rockets and crafts constructed by many different companies. Operationally speaking, they made sure to consider factors such as first stage re-entry and static fire tests.
After examining factors such as pollution, noise levels, and visual effects, the report’s authors found that there were no obvious conflicts to the construction of the launch site. While it refrains from making any type of findings, conclusions, or recommendations, the report identified the proposed site as the “environmentally preferred alternative.” The authors emphasized that there were some environmental factors they would need to keep in mind. For example, the site developers needed to come up with a way to prevent any contaminated materials from being disposed of at the site.
Another issue noted by the report is the noise volume. The Cumberland Island National Seashore is a nearby attraction, where visitors go to enjoy the quiet peace of nature. This impact could be mitigated by widely publicizing the time and date of launches and advising visitors to save their nature hikes for after the launch.
In addition to the main design, the report also took an alternative design into consideration. This alternative approach removes the landing pad, using offshore ships for first stage retrieval. It was the preferred approach by the report authors because it removed a few environmental issues commonly associated with the sonic booms that occur from landings.
The FAA is hosting two public hearings in April about the proposed site, and they are currently receiving public comments. Comments received by nearby citizens as well as those delivered at the public meetings are then set to be incorporated into a final report.