Huntsville International Airport is on its way to becoming the first landing site for Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane. In a step toward that end, the FAA held a virtual public meeting Thursday in which it presented a draft environmental assessment on the proposal with input from airport officials and Sierra Space.
The assessment is a prerequisite not only for Sierra Space to land its vehicle at the site, but also for the Huntsville Madison County Airport Authority to obtain a Reentry Site Operator License from the FAA.
Under the proposal, Dream Chaser would take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, enter low Earth orbit to resupply cargo for the International Space Station, then descend to Huntsville, Alabama.
Sierra Space only plans to land Dream Chaser at the airport up to eight times over five years — once in 2023, 2024 and 2025, twice in 2026, and three times in 2027.
The FAA discussed several potential environmental impacts of the proposal, including a sonic boom during Dream Chaser’s reentry “similar to a clap of thunder.” The agency said the noise in surrounding communities would be too low to adversely impact land use, building structures, and occupational health and safety.
It also acknowledged that the landings “may affect, but would not significantly affect federally threatened and endangered species.”
A few Huntsville residents spoke up in support or against the proposal. “The Huntsville community of course has a long history of supporting advanced spaceflight and other aerospace technologies, and I look forward to the opportunity to see Dream Chaser land at Huntsville!” commented Mark Spencer.
Robert Kendall disagreed, expressing concern about the impact of sonic booms and toxic propellants and wondering why Dream Chaser cannot land somewhere more remote. “In Huntsville we build rockets,” he said. “We have a NASA, engineering type of community, and we love what we do. But we do not launch the rockets from here, nor do we land them here. There’s a reason for that.”
The public comment period lasts until December 22. Thereafter, the FAA may revise the draft environmental assessment, and it will issue either a Finding of No Significant Impact or a Notice of Intent to prepare a more comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement.