U.P. airport selected as command center for Michigan’s rocket launch sites

The Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association today announced Thursday, Jan. 28 that Chippewa County will be home to its new command and control center.Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association

By Brandon Champion,
Published in Michigan Live – 28 January, 2021

STERLING HEIGHTS, MI — The Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association announced Thursday that Chippewa County will be home to its new command and control center.

It’s the third major announcement in the last 14 months from the organization, which oversees Michigan’s aerospace and defense manufacturing community within the global industry.

MAMA announced plans for a horizontal launch site at Oscoda-Wurthsmith Airport in February 2020 and a vertical launch site in Marquette in July 2020.

Chippewa County Airport, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was among four locations across the state considered for the command-and-control center along with KI Sawyer Airport in the U.P. and locations in Traverse City and Dowagiac.

Site selection – co-led by spaceport consultants BRPH and Kimley-Horn – was based on many factors, including community support, constructability, existing communication infrastructure and established workforce and aerospace industry.

This is the third and final site in the Michigan Launch Initiative, a public-private partnership organized by MAMA that is expected to bring an estimated 40,000 new jobs and aims to solidify the state’s place as a premier commercial aerospace destination.

Funding is being secured mostly through private commercial entities, MAMA Executive Director Gavin Brown said during a Thursday press conference. The Michigan Legislature appropriated $2 million to assess the feasibility of developing one or more low-orbit launch sites in the state in June 2019.

“This will be roughly a multi-hundred million investment into the state of Michigan and its assets,” Brown said.

The command and control center will support both launch sites and provide classified and unclassified capabilities for the Department of Defense and other interested commercial space organizations.

It will manage satellite operations once rockets carrying small and midsized satellites are launched from the horizontal and vertical launch sites into low Earth orbit, which is about 1,200 miles above the Earth. It also will manage research and development for high-speed suborbital flights.

The DOD plans to launch 17,000 LEO satellites over the next decade, according to a news release, and MAMA thinks Michigan’s new launch sites will help meet this demand.

MAMA says Northern Michigan – north of the Earth’s 45th parallel – is perfectly situated for polar orbit launches and it has ideal infrastructure for logistics and technical support. The Chippewa County location is located strategically between the two launch sites in Oscoda and Marquette.

“This large and contiguous site in Chippewa has existing facilities that can easily be converted to support the command and control center’s mission,” Brown said. “It also has early radar line of sight tracking for the horizontal and vertical launch sites to support our Michigan Launch Initiative. The Chippewa community’s strong partnerships within the aerospace industry and its established aerospace labor market will allow for immediate support for the center.

“Upon future determination, a military aspect will be key in the MLI, enabling us to interface with the Department of Defense on projects that utilize satellites and other space assets. Michigan’s new launch sites and our evolving space ecosystem will help position our state to be a true leader. We are thrilled to welcome Chippewa to the MLI team.”

MAMA will now turn its attention to working with community, local and state partners on environmental permitting, site design and construction. Brown said Thursday that addressing environmental concerns, particularly with the Marquette site, is an area of focus.

Environmental studies on the sites, which are part of the licensing process, have not yet been conducted. Brown said MAMA will begin engaging the studies in Oscoda in “the next couple months” but it will probably be more than a year until that happens at the Marquette site.

Findings from the studies will be available to the public, Brown said.

“We are extremely pleased with and excited about the selection of Chippewa County for the command and control center location,” said Chippewa County Economic Development President Chris Olson.

“Chippewa’s proposal provides an ideal balance of industry expertise, local know-how and national security space proficiency necessary for the successful implementation of a premier command and control center.”

The MLI is working to obtain licensing approvals for the Oscoda horizontal launch site and the Marquette vertical launch site. Operations are expected to begin at the horizontal space launch site in late 2023 or early 2024 and at the vertical space launch site by early 2025.

“These are exciting times in the space industry,” Brown said. “The space domain is critical to both our national security and economic viability. Space is a significant growth area for both the DOD and commercial sectors for the foreseeable future. We are honored to be leading this effort.”

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