Spaceport Supporters Make Their Case

March 3, 2022

Mar. 3—A former NASA official conducted a presentation Tuesday to explain the benefits of a spaceport in Camden County.

David Rainer Jr., a retired test director and convoy commander at Kennedy Space Center, called his presentation attended by about 75 people at the Camden County High School auditorium "Spaceport 101."

Rainer, son of former Camden County schools superintendent and Camden County Commissioner David Rainer, said research in weightless conditions has led to medical breakthroughs to treat a myriad of diseases, including influenza, diabetes, psoriasis, muscular dystrophy, rheumatoid arthritis and Duchenne muscular distrophy.

"Weightlessness is a big deal," he said. "The experiments are a big deal."

Rainer said breakthroughs in protein crystals on the International Space Station has led to developing an inhibitor for Duchenne muscular dystrophy that is doubling the life span of those afflicted with the debilitating disease.

He said the small satellite market is growing quickly, leading to a demand for more vertical launches.

Spaceport Camden would join Kennedy Space Center and a spaceport in Wallops Island, Virginia, as the nation's third facility capable of vertical launches.

Rainer praised Camden County as an ideal location, despite concerns raised by opponents about risks to the environment, structures on Cumberland and Little Cumberland islands and the more than $10.3 million spent to establish a spaceport, so far.

Kennedy Space Center is too busy to accommodate the demand for launches by small companies, he said. Camden is a better location than Wallops, more than 700 miles north of Kennedy Space Center, compared to the Camden site, 168 miles north of the launch site in Florida.

The closer the launch site is to the equator, the less fuel it takes to put a rocket into orbit, he said.

Camden is also in an area that has a 1% chance of being struck by a hurricane, better than Wallops or Kennedy Space Center.

Rainer said Camden County is not trying to hide anything about its attempt to establish a spaceport. Photos of the environmental issues at the Union Carbide property the county wants to buy for a launch site is no secret.

Critics have also asked for proof companies are interested in the launch site, but Rainer said those companies have memorandums of understanding with the county that cannot be disclosed until an agreement is reached.

Another criticism is the rocket that would send satellites into space has not yet been invented. Rainer said the Federal Aviation Administration has "verified" a concept vehicle within the range of launches planned at the site. He said the single 100 degree trajectory is not unusual, as claimed by critics.

Retired Maj. Gen. Bob Dickman, former director of Space Programs, U.S. Air Force Headquarters in 1995 and director of the Eastern Range and commander of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral from 1993-1995, spoke in support of a spaceport in Camden County.

Dickman said vertical launches are preferable to horizontal launches because they are easier to do.

"Every rocket to space goes through the same process," he said.

By the time a rocket launched from Spaceport Camden flies over Little Cumberland Island, he said it will be 13 miles high. He expressed confidence launches will be conducted at the spaceport because the demand exists.

"It's difficult to operate at a federal range," he said. "All they need is a concrete pad. They don't want competition. What they will do is put Camden on the map as an aerospace center."

Retired Vice Adm. Al Konetzni, Jr. was stationed at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in the early days while the base was being constructed. He said the scrutiny that went into bringing nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles to the county was much more intense than what is needed to establish a spaceport here.

"The decision to bring nuclear submarines here was a lot more critical than this," he said. "Look at the intellectual argument. No one will look closer at this than the Navy."

By the time launches are held at the site, Konetzni predicted "hundreds" of memorandums of understanding between the Navy and county will be signed.

"The Navy has agreed it's not an issue here," he said.

There are many opportunities for area youth to get good jobs in Camden County with a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines coming to Kings Bay and a spaceport, he said.

"What makes this the greatest county in the world is kids," he said. "Let's let them be all they can be. If they want to stay in Camden County, great. The new Columbia-class submarines will keep Kings Bay busy for 20 years.

Rainer ended the presentation by explaining plans by Union Carbide to clean up some of the contaminated areas of the site.

"The land will be rehabilitated and repurposed," he said. "The landfill will never be owned by the county."

He urged the audience to vote no at the March 8 special election, which would allow Camden County to close on the purchase of the proposed launch site.

If the county does buy the land, a new sign will be erected to help promote the opportunities of opening a business in Camden: "Where businesses launch and opportunity runs deep."


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