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State hopes to win bid to convert former military base into rocket launch site

A NASA rocket launched this morning carrying two satellites built by University of Michigan students.
Ben Cooper
Spaceflight Now
A NASA rocket launched this morning carrying two satellites built by University of Michigan students.

Political and business officials in Michigan are trying to win permission to make a former Northeast Michigan Air Force base into a rocket launch site.

Wurtsmith Air Force Base was decommissioned in 1993 and is now a smaller regional airport. But economic developers now hope the airport can be used as what they’re calling a “space base.”

Gavin Brown is with the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturing Association. He says Wurtsmith Airport could be an ideal location for a site to launch low-orbit satellites for navigation and for space tourism.

“We want to be a space state, so we have a lot of work ahead of us to get there. We believe that, I call it the ‘Third Coast,’ should be participating, not just the Pacific and the Atlantic states,” he says.

He acknowledges the bid is a longshot. But he says Wurtsmith’s proximity to Lake Huron, the low-population density of the area, and nearby manufacturing should all make the location worth a serious look.

“How do we return to contribute again to America’s defense and growth?...This could be it,” he says.

Brown says one of the features might someday be launching tourists into low-level sightseeing orbits. He says the state and the industry are working on a request for FAA approval.

State Senator Jim Stamas represents the region that includes the airport, which borders Lake Huron.

“It really makes a lot of sense. It’s within a very short distance to get up over water. Population density right in that area is a lower population, to create less of a threat if something horrible were to happen.”
Stamas says the state’s tool-making and manufacturing plants could also make the location more appealing.

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Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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