Camden Spaceport sees 1st launch

Vector Space Systems launches sub-orbital test rocket

WOODBINE, Ga. – Just over four hours after the window opened for the first-ever rocket launch from a remote site in northeast Camden County, the small test rocket lifted off.

Vector Space Systems, a small Arizona-based satellite launch company based out of Tucson, is testing a rocket it hopes will put small satellites into space one day.

WATCH: Vector Space Systems rocket launch

"As a company, our goal is to fly a lot of these. So we're talking about flying hundreds of them in a year and to do this from a number of different spaceports -- Camden being one of the spaceports we will operate from," Jim Cantrell, CEO of Vector Space Systems, said after the launch. "Thanks to the community for having us here and we hope to be back soon."

The test launch happened on private property off Harriets Bluff Road in Woodbine, Georgia.

The window for sub-orbital test flight to lift off from near Waverly, Georgia, opened at 8 p.m. Vector quickly tweeted the launch should happen in about 30 minutes. Another tweet at 8:45 said, "Final payload checkouts ... stay tuned."

A 15-minute countdown began about 11:30 p.m., within 1 minute of launch, Vector tweeted, "Launch hold. Auto abort ignition detection failure standby we are in launch hold."

The countdown resumed just after noon, and the rocket launched successfully about 12:15 p.m.

Several people came out to Crooked River State Park hoping to see the launch but not much could be seen from that vantage point, leaving some disappointed.

Vector tweeted "successful launch!” at 12:25 p.m.

"Building on years of research, Vector is continuing to work towards the next technical milestone in our development plan," Vector's co-founder and chief technology officer, John Garvey, said in a release. "Spaceport Camden's support of Vector's flight test will not only validate the engineering and technology behind our mission, but also propel Vector closer to an orbital capacity."

Even though she couldn’t see it, Sheila Buchanan said the launch makes her excited and optimistic for Camden County’s future.  

“I have six grandchildren, and I am very hopeful that this will lead to something great for them," Buchanan said.

Camden County is working on licensing its spaceport with the Federal Aviation Administration. It hopes to have an environmental impact statement drafted by the end of this year.

"When we started this journey more than two years ago, we promised Camden residents that we’d make history again," county administrator and Spaceport Camden project lead Steve Howard said. "Well today, we did just that. This is the first commercial rocket to ever launch from Georgia and we anticipate many more launches at Spaceport Camden in the future. In the 1960s, the space industry put Camden County on the map. Today, Vector did it again."

Earlier this year, the Georgia Legislature passed the Georgia Space Flight Act, which supports development of a commercial spaceport in the state by providing liability protection for spaceport operators, similar to laws in several other states.

Backers of Spaceport Camden argued that the bill was essential to its development.

Some Camden County residents said they think it will be good for the area, but others think it's going to be an issue for taxpayers.

"They've raised our taxes twice in the last two years. They are having to borrow the money just to buy the $5 million down-payment on the property," Steve Weinkle said.

A county spokesman told News4Jax the best thing the county can do is create new opportunities for business and revenue, and that the county is only investing in the cost it takes to get the spaceport licensed. Private companies will be covering their own cost for things like building infrastructure and launch pads.

Winkle, however, thinks the county is biting off more than it can chew.

"Camden County should be spending this money on economic development that is realistic," Weinkle said.

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