Spaceport Alpena?

Group pushing satellite launch site considers NE Michigan, few details, yet

AP Photo A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, March 15, 2019 in Cape Canaveral, Fla.. The rocket is carrying a communications satellite for the U.S. Military. The Michigan Aeronspace Manufacturers Association is backing an effort called the Michigan Launch Initiative that could lead to a launch pad similar to this one being built in Northeast Michigan.

ALPENA — Locations in Alpena and Rogers City are among five spots being considered for a new Michigan spaceport, according to the chief backer of the effort, though Northeast Michigan officials have not received details of any proposals.

The former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda and two locations in the Upper Peninsula, Sawyer Air Force Base in Marquette County and Kincheolo Air Force Base in Chippewa County, also are being considered, according to Gavin Brown, executive director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association, and news reports.

Calling the effort the Michigan Launch Initiative, the Aerospace Manufacturers Association says the spaceport would be used for low Earth orbit launches and hypersonic launch technology for commercial and defense applications. Satellites would be launched into a polar orbit, circling Earth from pole to pole instead of across the equator.

Northern Michigan could be a good spot for such a project because of its sparse population, its vast restricted airspace, an accessible interstate highway system, and its engineering and manufacturing capacity, according to a news release from the Aerospace Manufacturers Association.

A site could be chosen as quickly as this summer.

While economic development and city officials in Alpena and Rogers City are intrigued by the idea of such a development, few details have been shared with them at this point.

Jim Klarich, executive director of Target Alpena, said he knows Brown “very well” and has been in touch with him about the project. However, other than Alpena and Rogers City being identified as potential sites for the project, Target Alpena hasn’t received specifics, such as infrastructure requirements or environmental impacts.

“Conceptually, the idea of a launch facility in northern Michigan is intriguing, but, really, until we receive more information, we don’t know what it means,” Klarich said.

Rogers City Mayor Scott McLennan said he originally learned of the project from an Aerospace Manufacturers Association publication, but city officials have had no formal contact from those proposing the project.

“There’s just so many details about it at this point that are unknowns,” McLennan said. “We as a city have not had any formal contact with looking at the prospects of Rogers City. We, like the rest of the citizenry, are waiting to see what, if anything, unfolds.”

Despite many of the unknowns, McLennan said city officials remain open to the possibility of such a development.

“We’re open to any kind of possibilities, especially when it has to do with economic development in Northeast Michigan,” he said. “But we need more details first before we can make a comment on it.”

Brown said in a press release that more than 7,000 small satellites are expected to circle Earth over the next decade, if sufficient launch capacity exists. Multiple aerospace companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, ISRO, ESA Vega, Firefly Aerospace and the U.S. Department of Defense have plans to launch satellites into low Earth orbit.

The launch site in northern Michigan would conduct 22 to 25 launches per year at full capacity.

Brown said he is very proud of the fact they could bring a potentially “billion-dollar economic opportunity” to northern Michigan and that officials with the effort will be objectively looking at each site’s potential.

“The opportunity for this is a very tight window of time, meaning we have to actually get started with the site selection no later than April,” he said. “So, when we talk about the speed at which we are moving forward, it will be at the speed of business as opposed to the speed of government, which usually takes years. We are going to be selecting a site by June of this year and moving forward with the licensing process.”

The group plans to ask the Federal Aviation Administration for a commercial space license.

Brown said they would do “due diligence” for the project, but on a very aggressive timetable. Funding, permits and an environmental impact study would be concluded by the third quarter of 2020, according to the press release from the Aerospace Manufacturers Association. Construction would be complete by the end of 2021, with the first launch planned for early 2022.

Backers of the Michigan Launch Initiative also are looking to construct a command center in Michigan and are considering Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Camp Grayling in Crawford County, and Fort Custer in Calhoun County.

Brown told The Detroit Free Press Macomb County is the leading candidate for the launch site’s command center.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at cnelson@thealpenanews.com or 989-358-5687.

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