Chippewa County in U.P. picked for satellite launch command center

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
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An airport in the Upper Peninsula has been selected as the command and control center that would support U.S. defense and commercial satellite launch sites, the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association confirmed on Sunday.

The selection of Chippewa County International Airport, which once served as a U.S. Air Force base, is the final piece in a plan to make Michigan a significant hub for the aerospace industry and exploration, and keep talent for these jobs and careers in the state. It is located about 20 miles south of Sault Ste. Marie.

Chippewa County has been selected for a new command and control center that would support U.S. defense and commercial satellite launches.

The formal announcement of the command center as part of the Michigan Launch Initiative program, a public-private partnership organized by MAMA, became public Thursday.  A horizontal launch site was announced for the Oscoda-Wurthsmith Airport  in Feb. 2020 and a vertical launch site was announced last summer for north of Marquette.

The ecosystem created by these sites could bring more than $1 billion in funding and 40,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, to the state, said Gavin Brown, the executive director of the trade organization.

If the project raises the required money and gets the needed approvals, the command center could begin to operate in June 2023.

Brown said officials for the Chippewa airport had done well in attracting space logistical companies in preparation for the role, even through the last month. The low-earth orbit programs will not only provide logistics for launches but also "the ability to monitor low earth orbit from about 200 miles to 1,200 miles for objects and satellites" to use for climate control and broadband connectivity, he said.

"We are building out an ecosystem of space capabilities, not just focused on launches," Brown said. "It's focused on the management of space as well as the launches."

Airport officials also were pleased with the selection.

“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," said Chippewa County Economic Development president Chris Olson.

Brown said the jobs would include everything from technicians on the ground to engineers that students in Michigan universities can take advantage of so they won't have to "go elsewhere to find jobs in the space and aerospace world."

The proposed command and control center will enable the Michigan Initiative centers to connect with the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies on "highly sensitive and defense-related projects," officials said in a news release describing the project.

The Defense Ddepartment is seeking to add 17,000 low-earth orbit satellites over the next decade, a significant increase over the 1,200 satellites currently in place, officials said. The low earth-orbit satellites could help in the development of autonomous vehicles, broadband connectivity, education, medicine and emergency response as well as U.S. Space Force missions, Brown previously told The Detroit News.

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

The Kincheloe Air Force Base served as a defense site in the U.P.'s Kinross from 1942 to 1977, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It originally served as a refueling stop for aircrafts bound for Alaska and was deactivated after World War II. It was reactivated in 1952 for the 91st Air Base Squadron and renamed it Kinross Air Force Base.

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