BISBEE — Tuesday at 10 a.m., the county Board of Supervisors will hold a work session on a spaceport landing facility proposed by Boeing Co. to be located in the Willcox Playa, in the northeastern part of the county.
According to the agenda item posted on the county website, the supervisors will discuss the potential impacts and hazards to the community, hear an overview of the risk mitigation plan and review resources being requested of the local government.
Boeing plans to land a space capsule, the Boeing Starliner, on U.S. Army-owned and state-owned land at the Playa facility in support of the national space program. The Starliner has an innovative, weldless structure and is reusable up to 10 times with a six–month turnaround time and features wireless internet and tablet technology for crew interfaces.
“This project is the first of its kind on land and will be a unique endeavor for Cochise County,” according to the agenda. “Due to the significant impact on local government services and resources as well as the assessed significant interest to the community at large, Boeing will brief the supervisors.”
Boeing states the Crew Space Transportation program (CST)-100 Starliner spacecraft is being developed in collaboration with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The craft is “designed to accommodate seven passengers, or a mix of crew and cargo, for missions to low–Earth orbit. For NASA service missions to the International Space Station, it will carry up to four NASA–sponsored crew members and time-critical scientific research,” according to the company.
The U.S. Army has land in the Playa and has researched the likelihood of it as a landing site since 2013, according to the Willcox Range News (WRN), the sister newspaper of the Herald/Review. The Crew Transportation System–100 was developed as part of NASA’s program to assist transport cargo and crews to the International Space Station and low–Earth orbit missions.
The range site, once used for bombing and strafing runs during World War II and later used as the Electronic Proving Ground Radar Geometric Fidelity Facility and Radar Geology Test Area, is managed by the U.S. Army at Fort Huachuca.
According to the documentation, the range consists of 52 square miles (28,667 acres) which includes 50 square miles (27,387 acres) managed by Fort Huachuca and two one-square-mile parcels owned by the state.
Boeing states, “The range consists of land controlled by Ft. Huachuca that include two parcels controlled by the State of Arizona. An additional area outside the range consisting of State of Arizona, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and private land would also be utilized when the winds are strong enough and in the right direction to cause up to six small parts jettisoned from the Starliner during the parachute deployment process to be blown outside the boundaries of the Ft. Huachuca controlled land.”
The parts which could land outside the zone are “small aluminum plates weighing up to one pound,” Boeing reported.
To conduct commercial Starliner missions, Boeing must obtain a launch and reentry license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA’s anticipated action of issuing Boeing a license for Starliner launch, reentry, and landing is considered part of the proposed action analyzed in this EA.
Boeing stated in the executive summary of the Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) prepared to “evaluate the potential environmental impacts from the proposed launch of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft, utilizing the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida and landing and recovery of the Starliner crew module at the U.S. Army’s Willcox site. This included migrations of wildlife.
NASA is the lead agency for this project, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Huachuca acting as cooperating agencies. The first two test missions of the Starliner spacecraft would be under oversight of NASA. An FAA-issued commercial space launch and reentry license is expected to be granted for the follow-up operational missions.
Four additional landing sites are sought: one site at Edwards Air Force Base in California, two at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and one at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. Separate EAs are being developed for those locations. Other sites were evaluated but failed to meet one or more of the criteria required for a landing site.
A public meeting will also be held in Willcox on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Willcox Community Center, 312 W. Stuart St.