Link to video: The Hidden Problems of Rocket Launch Sites
Rocket launch sites popping up all over
By Lisa Savage
When you hear the phrase “public-private partnerships” what do you think of – maybe corporate branding on public university research centers, or billionaires raking in taxpayer-funded subsidies? Both of these associations would be true of an increasingly evident manifestation of such partnerships: the construction of multiple rocket launch sites around the planet.
Promoters don’t like to call these rocket launch sites. They prefer the public relations value of calling the sites “spaceports” which sounds much more appealing and, not by coincidence, much less military.
In capitalist countries, new launch site construction is always sold as a good way to create jobs. Because sites are necessarily distant from population centers, they’re proposed in communities where jobs for wages are typically scarce. People in places that have already built launch sites, however, found the promised jobs never materialized. A crew of specialists arrive to handle the occasional launch while the only permanent jobs are a few for security guards and custodians.
Space Alert! has previously reported on sites in Indonesia, Guyana, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It should be noted that it is common for nations to use launch sites located in other nations, so enticements like a decade of free internet service are used to persuade economically depressed countries to host a site. What follows is an overview of what we know about proposed launch sites and local resistance to their toxic fallout.
SaxaVord in Unst, Shetland has seen some evidence of a planned launch site including reports of an environmental impact statement that is unavailable online. Shetlanders have shown themselves to be vigorous advocates for environmental conservation in the past, and it’s likely many would oppose a rocket launch site in the island northernmost in Scotland.
Last winter, the Welsh Government released a National Space Strategy for Wales citing job creation in high-skilled technology professions and monetary rewards for locales identified as Cardiff, Newport, Port Talbot, Broughton, Llanbedr (Gwynedd), Aberporth, and Radnorshire. The profiteers included numerous companies specializing in missile technology and military training: Raytheon, Qinetiq, Quioptiq, and Airbus Defence and Space.
Less than half of the 20 “spaceports” listed by the United States Federal Aviation Administration have seen rocket launches so far. These are scattered around the nation including sites in Florida, Texas, Kodiak (Alaska), and New Mexico but there are many more locations proposed.
–Michigan is one of many states where groups are working to develop rocket launch sites. In August of 2021, the state hosted a North American Space Summit to bring together rocket profiteers and investors. Investors at the summit were told that building commercial rocket launch sites could be a “space gold rush” with the chance of creating next-gen Silicon Valley tech profits. But no such sites in the U.S. have been profitable yet. Pentagon watchers theorize that the reason the U.S. military is using grants to encourage the construction of many sites right now is to gain an advantage in bargaining down the price of launching from them.
Still, many Michigan residents are opposing a plan to put a rocket launch site at the edge of Lake Superior. And voters in the state of Georgia recently rejected a plan for Camden County to purchase land to launch commercial rockets. Opponents who forced the referendum expressed concerns about environmental harms and safety risks.
Where I live in the U.S. we recently organized to oppose the creation of a public-private partnership called the Maine Space Corporation. A bill was rushed through a public hearing without notice and passed by the lower house of the Maine legislature without a roll call vote. Why the urgency? To create a public structure that allowed private corporations and public universities to apply for grants from the federal government in order to develop sites. One of the aerospace companies involved already had extensive contracts with the U.S. military. Another claims to be operating in a purely educational realm with close ties to the state’s university system. Any profits derived from using future launch sites will, of course, be privately held. So far no launch site has been constructed, and commercial fishermen successfully imposed a moratorium in a proposed location at the municipal level. Needless to say, we will monitor future developments closely and spread the word via our website NoToxicRockets4ME.org.
The lands of indigenous people continue to be invaded and colonized by for-profit and/or military launch sites over community objections. In Texas, the Comecrudo Tribe has filed suit citing the American Indian Religious Freedom Act on the grounds that it is violated by the closure of public beaches during SpaceX rocket testing. Comecrudo ceremonies on sacred days must be conducted at the beach. Joined by environmental groups, their suit says such closures also violate the Texas Constitution and names the county and the Texas General Land Office as being in violation.
Kati Rocket Lab in New Zealand was sold to indigenous people whose land it is on as a purely civilian facility and launch site. Lockheed Martin Corporation now runs Rocket Lab and the peace community in NZ is protesting this betrayal as military technology is now hoisted from the launch site.
As launch sites proliferate, so do launches. The rapid growth of new satellites which join older objects already in orbit plus a lot of non-functioning junk has implications for climate, the ozone layer, wildlife exposure to disruptive sound pollution, and toxic fallout here on Earth.
Read my blog: “Went2theBridge“
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