The lawsuit alleges that Spaceport Camden could endanger local residents, wildlife, and protected habitats.
Attorneys for the Southern Environmental Law Center have filed a lawsuit challenging the planned construction of a commercial spaceport along the Georgia coast, saying that federal regulators incorrectly assessed the potential danger of firing rockets over residential neighborhoods and popular beaches.
According to The Associated Press, the lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. Court for the District of Columbia.
The S.E.L.C. is asking the court to revoke the Federal Aviation Administration’s licensure for Spaceport Camden.
If Spaceport Camden were allowed to operate, its proposed flight paths would send rockets over Little Cumberland Island, on which there are about 40 private homes.
The rockets would also pass Cumberland Island, a federally protected wilderness reserve that sees an annual tourist footfall of 600,000.
Little Cumberland Island residents and the National Park Service have both voiced concerns about the risks of commercial space flights. If an accident or misfire were to occur, burning debris could cause wildfires or damage privately owned structures.
In their lawsuit—filed on behalf of local homeowners and conservation groups—attorneys say that the F.A.A. granted Spaceport Camden’s license based on designs for a rocket “that does not exist” and is significantly smaller than most commercial rockets.
The F.A.A., says the lawsuit, did not adhere to its own policies, which hold “unproven” rockets to a higher standard for licensing purposes.
“The FAA’s decision to license a site where rockets would launch over people, homes, and Cumberland Island National Seashore […] is contrary to the agency’s regulations for licensing launch sites and is unprecedented in the history of the United States’ commercial space program,” attorneys wrote in their complaint.
The lawsuit also notes that a top F.A.A. official privately told opponents of Spaceport Camden that he doubted the project would be successful. Attorneys also claim that Spaceport Camden is not commercial viable, and that the F.A.A. knew the spaceport would probably fail.
However, the F.A.A. has refused to offer any insight on the lawsuit, saying it does not comment on pending litigation.
A spokesperson for Spaceport Camden said that spaceport officials maintained an active dialog with the F.A.A.
At no point, the spokesperson said, did the F.A.A. tell Spaceport Camden that the project would fail.
“On several occasions we would ask the F.A.A., ‘Listen, is it worthwhile for us to continue this endeavor?” Spaceport Camden spokesperson John Simpson told The Associated Press. “No one at the F.A.A. ever told us, ‘We don’t see this as a commercially viable project.’ Nor is that the F.A.A.’s role.”
Despite some local opposition—including a referendum that demanded local authorities order a pause to spaceport construction–Camden County officials have said they do not intend to abandon the plan.
The Camden County commissioners have also initiated their own lawsuit seeking to render the referendum invalid.