Is space the next frontier for Michigan’s economy? » WDET 101.9 FM

Alex McLenon

NASA/Dmitri Gerondidakis

Michigan’s economy could soon find itself in the cosmos.

At least that’s the goal of the Michigan Launch Initiative, a state grant to build a spaceport north of the 45th parallel at a location yet to be determined. The project would allow Michigan to gain a foothold in the commercial satellite business if it successfully meets the Federal Aviation Administration’s criteria.

Officials say the proposed facility would be equipped to fire objects into space from a launch pad, while also being designed to lift objects into low Earth orbit from a runway. The spaceport would also include a development center for hypersonic technologies, capable of operating at five times the speed of sound.

The $2.5 million needed to develop plans for the site was granted by former Governor Rick Snyder at the end of his administration. That support was later rescinded by current Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before being revived by the state Senate Appropriations Committee, which recently voted unanimously in favor of a reformulated version of the initiative.

The spaceport itself will be a port of green space unlike any other in the world,” said Gavin Brown, executive director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association, an industry group leading the effort. “We are looking at how we can be carbon neutral by using biofuels. And also, the whole facility, we plan to make it more… environmentally friendly when we arrive, as opposed to where it is today.

Brown speaks with WDET’s Alex McLenon about plans for the spaceport and why the state might be a logical choice for the space launch industry.

Listen to the audio interview by clicking on the player above. The following questions and answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

NASA/Tony Gray and Kenny Allen

WDET: What are some of those locations you’re considering for a launch site?

Chestnut: We are looking in the northern part of the state. So that you’re looking at an unpopulated area that has good launch dynamics, like going over water. Near the shore, passing over the water.

You need water for the rocket stages to detach. Can you tell me about some of the benefits and why it makes sense to do this in Michigan, compared to other states?

Chestnut: Michigan has a rich history of what I would call manufacturing process that go beyond the automobile. They are really conducive to high technology.

We [also] have the greatest amount of restricted airspace east of the Mississippi River. So we have a talent base, we have the physical assets and we have the advantage to shoot on the polar route. This offers an advantage over other states or other entities that would try to do so south of us. They are more suited to Cape Canaveral [in Florida] and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

If all of this is approved, can you tell me about the economic benefits this will have for Michigan?

Chestnut: Morgan Stanley sees it as a $1.1 trillion business by 2040. Bank of America calls it a $3.3 trillion market by 2048. We’re probably looking at over 1,000 [jobs]. Economic impact – we won’t get the bulk of this trillion dollar industry, but we’re looking at nearly around $200 million+ per year, per year, starting in 2023.

So you look at these little [low-Earth orbit] satellites, they’re not like deep space satellites where you launch them every 20 to 30 years. They are launched every six or seven years. If you were to even use Cape Canaveral as an example, that’s 40 to 50 years of operation.

A final thought?

Chestnut: Our business model aims to position Michigan not just to be a participant in the space launch industry, but to be a leader. I think what you’re going to find is people recognizing how we’re doing launches with the technologies that we’re using and the stewardship that we’re going to be using – that takes care of the environment, both the earth, water and air – will truly separate us from all other spaceports. I strongly believe that the resources that will flow from this, in terms of the people of the state and then the economy, will in fact be a thriving new industry that may even rival that of the automotive world as we move further into space .

  • Alex McLenon is a reporter with 101.9 WDET. McLenon is a graduate of Wayne State University, where he studied Media Arts and Broadcast Production and Journalism.

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