Spaceport reports show definite understatement
To the Journal editor:
Documents from 2020 (“Spaceport Site Selection and Feasibility Study” and “Michigan Spaceport Economics and Business Report”) prepared for the lobbying firm promoting the Marquette Spaceport, Michigan Aerospace Manufacturer Association (MAMA) indicate we have not been told the extent of the plans. The plan’s extent, number of annual launches, evacuation needs, rocket size, and potential pollution, have all been understated.
Plan extent: These documents are 307 and 60 pages. They detail site selection criteria, including that being adjacent to Lake Superior as an advantage for failed launches.
Launch numbers: Initially we were told there might be 6 launches annually. Then Gavin Brown, MAMA Executive Director, stated an average year will bring “anywhere from 20 to 36.” But the 2020 reports claims “as many as 60.” Given weather, it’s fair to assume that most will be in the spring and summer. So that might mean a launch every 3 days.
Evacuations: Brown told us that we “won’t have to evacuate at all” based on a safety analysis. But that feasibility study was based on a small rocket being considered for launch, contrary to the larger rocket proposed in the documents, which is twice as tall and has 10 times the fuel. What is the evacuation zone for this large rocket? We don’t know. The Federal Aviation Administration states that the evacuation zone size depends on the size of the rocket with a “Debris dispersion radius given a worst-case launch … and flight termination … assumed to occur at 10 seconds into flight.” And this does not address extended evacuation launch due to launch delays.
Pollution: The documents indicate that successful staged rockets will have debris fall into Lake Superior with a retrieval “attempt.” But there is unretrieved debris. And 1000s of gallons of water, are used with each launch, which is heated and will change the local aquatic ecosystem. But what of the launches that aren’t successful? The FAA states that 29% of “small rockets” have launch failures, including catastrophic failures that spew debris along the flight path. And of course there is the light, air, and noise pollution from everyday normal launches.
One thing I will agree with: One report states that early involvement of the local population with attention to their concerns about environmental issues should happen. I want direct communication. Our local government should demand it.