Spaceport at Sawyer airport seems like good idea

Is K.I. Sawyer going to turn into Cape Canaveral?

Probably not quite, but there is an effort underway to establish spaceport operations and command center facilities in northern Michigan, and Sawyer is in the running.

Involved in the effort is the Michigan Launch Initiative, a public-private partnership that was organized by the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association and is backed by a private investment group.

Aside from Sawyer, the group is looking at several sites in the region including Chippewa County Airport, the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda and sites in Rogers City and Alpena.

Local officials on Monday heard about the site selection process from Gavin Brown, executive director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association.

Northern Michigan’s proposed spaceport would focus on low-Earth-orbit, or LEO, satellite launches. It would send satellites into polar orbit, rather than the equatorial orbit that is better reached by more southerly launch sites. Brown said there’s a growing demand for LEO satellite launches, with more than 80,000 launches projected to occur over the next 12 years, so that means business should look good in the coming years.

Right off the bat, we’ll say it’s hard to find anything really wrong with the possibility of Sawyer becoming a site for these types of operations.

First of all, according to the most recent figures, the project could cost up to around $120 million. But, on the plus side, the spaceport is estimated to generate about $250 million in revenue its first year of operation, with growth projected to be in the $750 million to $850 million range in the years following.

It appears, for now at least, that the group isn’t seeking any local investments or financial assurances in the form of tax breaks or the like. That may become part of the picture later, and we’ll certainly have to look at how all that shakes out, but currently this sounds like a pretty good economic situation for Marquette County if Sawyer is chosen.

“This truly is an economic vehicle that will contribute,” Brown said in a Journal story on the matter. “It’s almost like an annuity program, because once you start launching, it’s not like these satellites stay up for 30 to 40 years; they last about six to eight years and then you have to keep launching.”

Oh, and then there’s the point that about 1,000 jobs would be created with this spaceport.

Here in the Upper Peninsula, that type of employment is needed, particularly if these positions are high-paying ones that contribute to a stronger regional economy for a long period of time.

On top of the economics side of things, project organizers are keeping the environment in mind. They want the Michigan facility to be the first “green” spaceport in the world.

“We’re going to be environmentally friendly, we’re going to have biofuels, we’re going to make it a carbon-neutral facility as much as possible,” Brown said.

By tailoring construction of the facility to be specific to LEO launches, as opposed to launching vehicles needed for deep space exploration or manned flights, the northern Michigan spaceport would carve out a unique niche of the market, ensuring its position remains strong across the launch facility industry.

This could be the start of something big and out of this world, if you will. At this point in time, the plan sounds like a good one. But as always, we’ll keep watch for those finer details.

— The Mining Journal (Marquette)

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