Dream Chaser landing in Huntsville could cause sonic booms in Morgan County, study says

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Huntsville airport starts work on spaceport proposal

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — If Huntsville International Airport is approved as a landing site for a low-orbit space vehicle, a portion of Morgan County could hear sonic booms as it returns to Earth.

That’s one of the findings from a draft environmental assessment from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The FAA is seeking public input on the draft assessment, which was released Friday morning.

If Huntsville’s airport gets the site license, and Sierra Space is approved for a license to land its Dream Chaser vehicle in the Rocket City, there could be up to eight sonic booms through 2027 that would be heard as the vehicle comes in — there would be one flight per year from 2023-2025, up to two in 2026 and up to three in 2027.

The primary area affected by the booms would be 170 square miles over Morgan and Cullman counties, including Hartselle, Falkville and Somerville. The noise from those sonic booms would be comparable to a clap of thunder, according to the FAA’s assessment, and would not significantly impact people, the environment or any wildlife.

Dream Chaser landing could cause sonic booms in Morgan County
The FAA says in its report that an area encompassing Somerville, Hartselle and Falkville could be affected by sonic booms from Dream Chaser landings. (Image via FAA/RS&H)

The Dream Chaser‘s mission would be to load up supplies and take them to the International Space Station before returning to Earth.

The assessment also addressed runway and airspace closures that would come with landings. Airspace would be closed for about an hour for safety purposes, but the FAA says that is fairly standard and routine similar to a weather delay.

Re-entry could also affect other air traffic in the region. The report lists Northwest Alabama Regional, Courtland, Pryor Field Regional, Bill Pugh Field, Hartselle Morgan County Regional, Posey Field and Cullman Regional airports as being near prospective flight paths.

At Huntsville International, the runway could be closed for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour after re-entry. During that time, crews would ensure the vehicle is in a safe condition and unload any cargo.

Huntsville airport starts work on proposal to land aircraft from space
(NASA image)

The 40-day public comment period began Friday and ends on December 22. The virtual public hearing for the draft review is set to be held on Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. CST. Public comments can also be submitted to HuntsvilleReentry@icf.com.

Following the public comment period, the FAA will revise the draft as needed and prepare a final EA where it will either decide whether the report is passed or not.

Then, the FAA will make licensing decisions after the environmental review is complete and all applicable safety and financial requirements are met.

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