The Problems

Closing and Evacuation of Cumberland Island National Seashore

The FAA and Camden County have designated hikers, campers, property owners and their guests as “Authorized Persons” who will be launched over.  This overflight of people only a few miles downrange from the spaceport would be unprecedented in the United States.  The FAA and Camden County have apparently proposed to launch over people and homes in an attempt to side step legal issues associated with closing a portion of the National Seashore and denying the owners of private inholdings within the National Seashore the ability to use and enjoy their properties.  Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966 prohibits transportation projects from using or closing national parks, and the laws of the State of Georgia do not allow the State or a County government to deny private property owners with the right to occupy their properties in order to advance an economic development project.  Faced with these clear obstacles, Camden County has proposed this unprecedented overflight and the FAA has unbelievably included it in the Final Environmental Impact Statement.  The National Park Service has raised objections to this unprecedented construct in multiple letters to the FAA, the most recent of which was in sent in December of 2020.

Photo: One Hundred Miles

Risk of Permanent Damage from Exploding Rockets on Cumberland Island National Seashore

The first stage failure rate for small launch vehicles is approximately 20% to date.  Camden. County has proposed to launch 12 rockets per year over the Cumberland Island National Seashore.  Based on the historical failure rate for small launch vehicles, there may be 2 first stage failures each year.  In mere seconds, the flaming debris and unspent rocket fuel would be catastrophic to the Seashore that is densely covered with highly flammable natural fuel (vegetation).

“In the event of a catastrophic failure…Such a failure or mishap could have long term effects on the island, potential impairment to the island’s natural and cultural resources, and major consequences for enjoyment of the island by future generations…”

National Park Service Scoping Letter

Unmanned Rocket Explosions since 1986

April 18, 1986
Titan 34D-9
Vandenberg AFB
Explosion on pad after 7 seconds

May 3, 1986
Cape Canaveral
Delta 178
Explosion after 71 seconds 15 miles away

March 26, 1987
Cape Canaveral
Atlas Centaur
Explosion after 48 seconds

April 18, 1991
Cape Canaveral
Atlas Centaur
Explosion at 4:41 minutes 243 miles away

August 12, 1993
Vandenberg AFB
Titan 4
Explosion at 101 seconds

January 17, 1997
Cape Canaveral
Delta 2
22 seconds, 100 feet from launch

August 12, 1998
Cape Canaveral
Titan 4
41 seconds, 5 miles away

Aug. 27, 1998
Cape Canaveral
Delta 3
71 seconds; 10-15 miles

November 9, 2001
Kodiak STARS
Exploded at 56 seconds 17-45 miles away

January 30, 2007
Sea Launch
Exploded on pad

August 22, 2008
Wallops Island
27 seconds

August 22, 2014
McGregor, TX
Falcon 9
±18 secs

August 25, 2014
Exploded over the launch pad at 4 seconds

October 28, 2014
Wallops Island
Exploded over pad

June 28, 2015
Cape Canaveral
Falcon 9
139 seconds

September 1, 2016
Cape Canaveral
Falcon 9
Explosion during a test on the pad

Outrageous Environmental Contamination

The site for the proposed spaceport is very heavily contaminated, is on the Satilla River waterfront, and is owned by Union Carbide Corporation. The 1971 Thiokol disaster occurred on this property. The known contamination includes munitions waste, unexploded ordnance, and pesticide waste. With each vibration from a launch, groundwater, soil, and waterway contamination is likely. Due to being heavily contaminated with hazardous materials it is subject to an Environmental Covenant with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The Union Carbide property includes a 58.16-acre toxic landfill, in addition to the massive widespread contamination, that requires close monitoring and remediation to ensure that it its contents do not make their way into water sources.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement also indicates that Camden County plans to purchase an adjacent property owned by Bayer Crop Sciences.  The Bayer property is also heavily contaminated, but the Final Environmental Statement fails to include information as to the nature or extent of contamination.

Endangered Species at Risk

Within the boundaries of the Cumberland Island National Seashore is the longest running loggerhead turtle project in the world. Founded in 1964, this conservation endeavor still collects data vital to the preservation of the species. In Georgia, 25% of loggerhead nests occur on Cumberland Island. Six species of federally protected migratory birds and shorebirds including: Bald eagles, Piping plovers, and Wood storks. Marine endangered species in the area include:

  • Loggerhead sea turtle
  • Green sea turtles
  • Leatherback sea turtles
  • Kemp’s ridley sea turtles
  • North Atlantic right whales calving in Georgia waters
  • Humpback whales during migration
  • West Indian manatees

Conflict with Private Property Rights

Contrary to Camden County’s assertions that rockets will be launched over private property owners on Cumberland Island and Little Cumberland Island, it is highly unlikely that actual rocket launches will be permitted to overfly property owners.  Camden County does not have the legal right to evacuate property owners from their properties, as such evacuation would be deemed a taking a taking of private property.  Georgia law does not allow a private property to be taken to accommodate a commercial interest. Camden County has offered no explanation as to how they intend to deprive private citizens of their property rights in order to clear the anticipated launch hazard areas.