Officials target Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport for future spaceport

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport has been identified as a top candidate for a project that would bring horizontal space launch sites to Michigan.

The former air force base was chosen from eight potential locations by the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association based on its safety track record, business capacity and runway infrastructure, according to a statement announcing the selection.

The airport has an 11,800-foot runway and is operated by an authority consisting of Oscoda, Greenbush and AuSable townships, and Iosco and Alcona counties.

Former Wurtsmith Air Force Base grounds in Oscoda Township, Michigan.

The study surrounding the feasibility of a low-orbit launch site in Michigan was funded by a $2 million appropriation made by the Michigan Legislature in June. The association plans to complete the feasibility study and submit it to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation by the second quarter of the year.

“The potential to develop a space ecosystem in Michigan complements the long tradition of excellence in automotive manufacturing in our great state,” Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, said in a statement.

Stamas represents the Oscoda area alongside Rep. Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, who called the site selection in Oscoda “the news we had been hoping for.”

“Oscoda’s prime location and strong community is certainly deserving of this fantastic opportunity, and I will continue working with Sen. Stamas to ensure that we do what we can in Lansing to help make this plan a reality,” Allor said.

The final report submitted to the MEDC would include regulatory considerations, discussions with the commercial sector and an evaluation of other sites for a command center and vertical launch location. The ultimate goal would be to obtain a license for a commercial spaceport in Oscoda from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Wurtsmith's potential role as a horizontal launch facility would mean it would accommodate low-orbit satellite or even tourism flights that take off along a runway, instead of the vertical launches commonly seen in sites like Cape Canaveral, Florida, said Gavin Brown, executive director for the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association.

Sen. Jim Stamas, a Republican, right, and Sen. Jim Ananich, a Democrat

The association has been in communication with potential businesses interested in a Michigan location, including the possibility of locating launch, manufacturing and assembly operations in the state, Brown said.

“We have three or four different types of customers interested in what we’re offering,” Brown said.

The Air Force stopped operations at the Wurtsmith facility in 1993. The site recently has come under scrutiny for the contamination left at the airport and in surrounding waterways after decades of using PFAS-containing firefighting foam during training drills.

That chemical contamination and any potential impact from it likely will be evaluated during the environmental assessment, Brown said.