Sawyer not chosen for spaceport

Airport still contender for vertical launch site, command and control center

Scott Erbisch

MARQUETTE — In a long-awaited decision, the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association announced Tuesday morning that the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport is the top candidate for Michigan’s horizontal spaceport launch site.

The site for the spaceport — a designated spot for launching spacecraft, such as small satellites, into low-Earth orbit to circle the polar caps — was chosen after an eight-month selection process.

The Oscoda site was selected “because of its runway infrastructure, business capacity, operational strength and safety track record,” a MAMA press release states.

It was one of eight sites — including Rogers City, Alpena, the Chippewa County Airport and the Sawyer International Airport — in the state being considered for the launch facility.

“Marquette County was very hopeful that our facilities would be selected for the horizontal launch,” Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch said. “We feel we’ve got wonderful assets here that could be used in such an endeavor. And in particular, the aerospace industry is a growing field, which we feel would really benefit the community and educational opportunities, but we’re also very pleased for Oscoda. We’re happy that they are the ones that have been selected as well because we think aerospace in Michigan is a good thing as a whole and we support our fellow airports that were seeking this next step in the endeavor.”

However, a decision is still yet to be made on a vertical launch site.

MAMA is also seeking a location for a command and control center that would support the launch and daily operations of satellites from the horizontal and vertical launch facilities, a press release from MAMA states.

Sawyer International Airport is still a contender for these operations.

“There is still some other components remaining with respect to the whole Michigan Launch Initiative that there should be some announcements in the next several months regarding the vertical launch and there’s also a (command and control center) that’s under consideration as well,” Erbisch said. “We’re hopeful that we might be fortunate enough to be selected for one of those two other aspects of the Michigan Launch Initiative.”

Erbisch added that the county is glad Michigan is looking to develop an aerospace industry and is hopeful that Sawyer will be a part of it moving forward.

Sawyer International Airport Manager Duane DuRay echoed those sentiments.

“Marquette County and Sawyer International were hopeful that we could’ve potentially been selected for the horizontal launch, but we’re equally happy that this development is staying in the state,” DuRay said. “… We feel that this could potentially have spin-off for us even if we do not acquire specific aspects of this operation — granted we definitely would hope that we still could potentially receive at least one of the two remaining components — but everything is contingent on what the Michigan Launch Initiative and MAMA come up with, their proposals and their evaluations.”

Marquette County Board Chairman Gerald Corkin said during the most recent meeting of the board that he wasn’t surprised by MAMA’s choice in Oscoda for the horizontal launch site.

“There’s still the vertical, which is (the) equally or more important one as well as the (command and control) center decisions that have to be made in the upcoming months,” Corkin said. “There’s a site in our county that’s being strongly looked at and maybe we’ll get lucky here and get something positive on it in the future.”

A decision on the vertical launch site is expected sometime in March or April.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.


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