Is Space The Next Frontier for Michigan’s Economy?

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Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

A new initiative could give Michigan a foothold in the commercial satellite business.

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NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Michigan’s economy may soon find itself racing into the cosmos. 

At least, that’s the goal of the Michigan Launch Initiative, a state grant funding item that aims to build a space port north of the 45th parallel at a to-be-determined location. The project would stand to give Michigan a foothold in the commercial satellite business if it successfully meets the criteria of the Federal Aviation Administration.

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 space port would also include a center for developing hypersonic technologies, capable of functioning at five times the speed of sound.

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

The space port itself will be a green space port unlike any of the others out there in the world,” says Gavin Brown, executive director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association, an industry group spearheading the effort. “We are looking at how we can be carbon neutral utilizing biofuels. And also, the entire facility, we plan on making it more… environmentally-friendly when we arrive as opposed to where it sits today.”

Brown speaks with WDET’s Alex McLenon about plans for the space port and why the state could be a logical fit for the space launching industry.

Listen to the audio interview by clicking on the player above. The following Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

NASA/Tony Gray & Kenny Allen
NASA/Tony Gray & Kenny Allen

WDET: What are some of those locations you are looking at for a launch site?

Brown: We are looking in the northern part of the state. So that you look at an unpopulated area that has a good launch dynamic, such as going over water. Close to the shoreline, going over water. 

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

Brown: Michigan has a rich history of what I would call manufacturing processes that go beyond automotive. They really are conducive to high technology. 

We [also] have the largest amount of restricted air space east of the Mississippi River. So we have a talent base, we have the physical assets and we have the advantage of shooting to the polar route. That offers an advantage over other states or other entities that would be trying to do so south of us. They’re more suited for Cape Canaveral [in Florida] and Vandenberg Air Force Base out in California.

Should this all get approved, can you tell me about the economic benefit this will have for Michigan?

Brown: Morgan Stanley considers it a $1.1 trillion business by 2040. Bank of America is calling a $3.3 trillion dollar marketplace by 2048. We’re looking at probably over 1,000 [jobs]. Economic impact — we won’t get the bulk of that trillion dollar industry, but we’re looking at close to anywhere from about $200 million-plus annually, per year, starting in 2023.

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

Any final thoughts?

Brown: What our business model looks at is positioning 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 as people recognize how we’re doing the launches with the technologies we’re utilizing and the stewardship that we’re gonna be utilizing – which is taking care of the environment, both land, water and air – will really separate us from every other space port out there. I believe firmly that the resources that will be coming from this, as far as back to the people of the state and then the economy, will actually be a new thriving industry that may even rival that of the automotive world as we progress in space.


Alex McLenon, Associate Producer

Alex McLenon is an Associate Producer with 101.9 WDET. McLenon has many interests; from cars and sports to arts and science. During college he amassed four years of experience as a Zamboni driver and acknowledges spending far too much money on his CD collection.

Follow @alexmclenon

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