FAA rule change to streamline commercial space launches; Spaceport Camden decision expected early next year

FAA rule change to streamline commercial space launches; Spaceport Camden decision expected early next year

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - More launches into space and a newly announced rule change are on the horizon. That change is set to take effect early next year around the time the FAA is expected to make a big decision for the proposed Space Port in Camden County.

Spaceport Camden is a project years in the making. The plan is to build a rocket launch site on a 12,000 acre piece of land right across the waterway from Cumberland Island.

Supporters of the project say it will bring a massive economic boom to Georgia.

Those in opposition say it will destroy the quality of life, coastal commerce, and pose a threat to the environment.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says the rule change will allow for more growth and innovation at a time when the industry in the U.S. leads the world in commercial space launches.

The Space X launch of the Falcon 9 earlier this month is just one example of the commercial space industry at work.

Across the U.S., there are 12 space ports like it. The launches are regulated and licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Right now, the FAA requires a license for each space launch. But under the rule change announced yesterday, it would do away with that requirement. And instead consolidate four regulatory parts into one single set of licensing for space port operators to meet.

Secretary Chao explained the impact of the decision.

“By doing this we are replacing cumbersome, prescriptive requirements with more flexible performance-based criteria. So, at the end of the day, this new rule will allow innovation to occur not hold it back but again never hampering, never compromising on safety,” Secretary Chao said.

Secretary Chao also gave an example of how the industry expects to grow. One company anticipates 227 launches in the next three years.

To give you some perspective, so far this year there’s been 26 commercial space launches. And the most the FAA has ever licensed in a year, she said, is 35.

The rule change will take effect 90 days after its published in the federal registrar.

As for the timeline of the proposed space port in Camden County, the FAA is expected to release in March a final Environmental Impact Study.

Spaceport Camden issued a statement about the FAA rule, but it does not say how the final rule will affect its plans for the site.

Steve Howard, project lead for Space Port and the county administrator for Camden County said in a statement:

“The FAA’s announcement that it will streamline commercial launch licensing is a testament to the exponential growth in the commercial space industry and the need for a regulatory frameworks that can keep up with launch demand. It is also a recognition that today’s launch vehicles are significantly safer and more reliable than when the FAA’s commercial launch regulations were first promulgated.”

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