Launch service provider Relativity Space has proposed the construction of a 200-foot-tall “test stand” at its headquarters adjacent to Long Beach Airport at the former C-17 site — something that’s been met with resistance from some aircraft operators.
It’s unclear exactly what the structure will look like or what tests will be conducted. Relativity did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the proposed project.
Based on coordinates submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration, the structure at its base will be roughly 41 feet by 79 feet between the airport property and the massive hangar that is now Relativity’s headquarters and manufacturing plant.
Staff from the city’s Economic Development, Community Development and airport departments are talking with Relativity about the project, but no formal building permit application has been submitted to the city, Economic Development Director Bo Martinez said Friday.
It is likely that the project will be a steel structure similar to stands seen on pads during rocket launches and used to test the company’s 270-foot-tall Terran R rocket, which is currently under development in Long Beach. Being completely 3D printed using the company’s patented printer, Stargate, Relativity will need to test the rocket’s structural integrity while holding payloads that weigh up to 73,855 pounds.
Under federal law, developers are required to submit proposals to the FAA if a project is in close proximity to an airport. The administration then conducts a survey to determine if the structure could pose a hazard to aircraft or interfere with navigation aids. There is no set time frame for how long FAA surveys take, according to spokesperson Ian Gregor.
Relativity submitted its project to the administration on Jan. 5, public records show.
“We are working with airport operators to understand the proposed project and its potential effects, while prioritizing safety and efficiency,” airport spokesperson Kate Kuykendall said in an email Thursday.
In a joint letter obtained by the Business Journal, various trade associations voiced their concerns about such a tall structure mere yards away from the airport.
“[The tower] will have many potential implications to flight patterns changes, aircraft navigation, aircraft noise contours into the community and could create new safety and environmental impacts to airport operations and residential communities,” the letter reads.
Among the groups signed onto the letter to the FAA are the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Helicopter Association International, the National Air Transportation Association and the National Business Aviation Association.
The collective has urged the FAA to seek public comment to help inform its survey of the proposal to “eliminate potential risks.”
According to the letter, a small group of local stakeholders held a meeting to review the proposed tower in December. The group acknowledges that the rocket bodies will not generate fire, clouds or involve hazardous material testing, and that there are currently no plans for flight or launch activities. However, there will almost certainly be impacts on airport operations, they said.
“The proximity and height of the proposed structure in and of itself is concerning for all aircraft operators taking off or landing at LGB,” the letter states, adding that it would pose “significant collision hazard risks.”
The tower also could affect approach procedures, air traffic control tower visibility and obstacle clearance requirements, the groups said. Maneuvering around the tower could increase traffic conflicts, forcing smaller aircraft closer to commercial airliners, among other operational issues.
“Further, on-airport effects may result in increased off-airport impacts to the community including changes to routes requiring helicopters to ﬂy farther west into the neighboring residential community to avoid the tower, thus changing noise impacts and contours west of Cherry Avenue,” according to the letter.
In a separate letter to the FAA obtained by the Business Journal, the Air Line Pilots Association, International, voiced concern for its Delta and Hawaiian airlines members, which operate daily flights out of Long Beach.
“The safety of the passengers and crews must remain the top priority when evaluating this structure’s effect on aviation,” the letter reads.
While the industry letters were addressed to the FAA, the federal agency noted that its survey results are non-binding and submitted to the city only as a recommendation for consideration during the city’s approval process.
“The FAA does not have the authority to limit building heights, and the decision to issue a building permit is up to the local government,” Gregor said. “Although the FAA does not issue or deny building permits, it encourages those with land use authority to consider the agency’s determinations in making zoning and permitting decisions.”
For the city’s part, Martinez said Relativity is a great company and community partner that is “important for the growth and development” of the local space economy. He noted the space firm has over 1,000 high-paying jobs and works with Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College to grow the city’s aerospace labor force through internships and other training.
“We would love to see them stay and grow,” Martinez said. “We definitely don’t want them to leave Long Beach. That’s very important to us.”