Science & Technology



Environmental concerns raised by rocket flights over San Diego County

Phil Diehl, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

Plans by SpaceX and other companies to boost the number of rocket launches sometimes seen streaking across San Diego County's skies have prompted the California Coastal Commission to question the environmental effects.

Residents near Vandenberg Space Force Base, on the state's Central Coast, say the launches shake their homes and rattle their nerves. People don't know when to expect them because the lift-off time varies and can be delayed by weather conditions.

"I find it difficult to believe that there are no impacts on (wildlife) species due to SpaceX launches," said Carpinteria resident Rebecca Stebbins in an April 5 letter to the Coastal Commission.

"I, along with thousands of other residents of the South Coast, am significantly impacted with each launch, including being woken up from a deep sleep on occasion, while my dogs are terrified, my house shakes, and the sonic booms are felt physically, with a deep shock."

Conservationists say the noise disturbs native wildlife such as red-legged frogs, the western snowy plover, seals and sea lions, and it interferes with commercial and recreational fishing. Nearby public beaches and fishing grounds are often closed during the launches.

"The launches are extremely loud and destructive," said Mandy Sackett in San Diego, senior California policy coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation.


"Sound impacts are grossly underestimated," Sackett said, and she urged the Coastal Commission to "pump the brakes" on the increase.

Another downside are the latex weather balloons released before every flight to check atmospheric conditions. The balloons carry batteries and electronics that reach the stratosphere and then burst from the pressure before falling back to earth or into the ocean, where the equipment sinks with little chance of being recovered.

As many as 30 balloons were released before each launch until recently, a Vandenberg official said. A launch now needs as few as 10, and the number is decreasing as technology improves.

Space companies pay mitigation fees of $10 for each pound of unrecoverable debris they create, and the money goes into a fund for the collection of lost fishing gear such as monofilament line and nets. But commissioners, at their meeting Wednesday in Long Beach, said that amount may be insufficient.


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