DEFERRED DECISION

Oscoda Township Superintendent Dave Schaeffer informs trustees that a decision on the Michigan spaceport site has been postponed – yet again. Despite the unknowns, he and the economic improvement director will still travel to Florida as planned for a spaceport facilities site visit.

OSCODA – The wait continues for those in Oscoda Township, who were hoping to learn whether the community has been chosen as the Michigan site for a potential spaceport operation.

An announcement was initially to be made on Jan. 2, but this was bumped to Jan. 22 – and then delayed again until Jan. 27. Well, the 27th has since come and gone, and there is still no word as to where Oscoda stands in the space race.

“That has been postponed,” Township Superintendent Dave Schaeffer said of the site selection announcement, during the Jan. 27 board of trustees meeting.

Schaeffer said he will keep the board in the loop, as far as when a decision will be made.

He noted that he did receive an e-mail that afternoon from Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport (OWA)Manager Gary Kellan, who was reaching out to representatives of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA).

According to Schaeffer, Kellan was trying to see if there was room to also take two representatives from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to the upcoming event in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

“So I found that promising because, prior to that, we were kind of in a disconnect on who was assigned from the MEDC on this project,” Schaeffer told trustees. “So I was happy to hear that this afternoon.”

As recently reported, Schaeffer and Oscoda Township Economic Improvement Director Todd Dickerson were given the OK by board members to participate in a spaceport facilities site visit, through MAMA. The delegation will take place at locations in and around Cape Canaveral, from Feb. 4-7.

OWA representatives for the event are Kellan and OWA Authority (OWAA) member Dave Dailey.

Schaeffer has noted that the Oscoda private sector – consisting of local companies which are interested in spaceport operations/licensure – will also be represented during the delegation.

Following the Michigan Launch Initiative (MLI) site visit in Oscoda in 2019, it was divulged that the preferred spaceport location in the state would be announced on Jan. 2.

Kellan advised at a recent OWAA meeting, though, that this has been bumped back.

He said that, during a discussion with MAMA Executive Director Gavin Brown, Brown indicated that the goal is to bring the governor’s office up to speed on the project before any formal announcement of the selected sites. Therefore, getting on the governor’s schedule has been a driving factor in this, and an announcement was then targeted for later in the month.

As reported, an excerpt from MAMA’s Nov. 4, 2019 newsletter extended an invite for its members to participate in a group site visit of spaceport facilities located in the Cape Canaveral area.

Kellan has expressed that he feels OWA is in a strong position, as it relates to the horizontal launch.

He has explained that OWA is only 2.7 miles to the beach on Lake Huron. However, there can’t be a hook shot type scenario, as anything launched would have to go directly north. Further, launches can’t be carried out over populated airspace. A vertical launch directly north from OWA would put this over Alcona County, Presque Isle County and so on.

When it comes to the horizontal launches, though, OWA has the longest runway – which also recently underwent a major rehabilitation – of the other contenders.

Vertical launches are similar to that of a shuttle taking off. But a horizontal launch can involve, for example, retrofitting the belly or underwing of a 747, which would travel into the air and then launch the rocket from that point.

In the newsletter, Brown states that MAMA is presently engaged in Phase I work on the MLI, which involves the feasibility of sites for both vertical and horizontal launch capabilities.

“We are putting site information into an analysis that is scored on many aspects, such as safety, community support, environmental factors, vector launch coordinates and others including business development to the local and state economy,” Brown wrote.

He shared that MAMA was planning to announce the sites which meet and exceed the highest value, in mid to late January. “The site or sites will serve as our basis to move forward with FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] licensing for a Spaceport for both/individually, vertical and horizontal launches serving LEO/MEO/suborbital, polar orbit demand.”

For the event in Florida, he explained that the association will be leading a delegation of MAMA members to Kennedy Space Center, Patrick Air Force Base and the Cape Canaveral area. The primary activity is a VIP viewing of the Feb. 5 launch of an Atlas V rocket (Solar Orbiter mission) by United Launch Alliance. “In addition, visits to local commercial space companies, NASA and the DOD [Department of Defense] are being scheduled.”

As reported, upon choosing the Michigan spaceport site – be it in Oscoda or elsewhere – the candidate will then have to compete nationally for licensing through the FAA Space System program.

Since a decision on the Michigan location has not yet been made, Schaeffer told trustees at their latest meeting that he was seeking confirmation as to whether the board still intends to send him and Dickerson to Cape Canaveral.

Clerk John Nordeen asked if there had been any discussion between the township and MAMA, as far as whether it is still the desire for Oscoda representatives to attend the event.

“Absolutely,” Schaeffer answered, adding that MAMA is obviously still trying to coordinate a time with the governor’s office, prior to any announcements on a site selection.

“Honestly, now that that hasn’t been announced, I think it’s imperative that we go down there and show our interest in the Michigan Launch Initiative and better understand the companies that make up an ecosystem of a spaceport,” he said.

“And the offer still stands from them?” Nordeen asked.

“Absolutely,” Schaeffer reiterated, saying he just wanted to confirm the Florida visit with the board, since the announcement was supposed to be made that day but wasn’t.

Trustee William Palmer – echoing Schaeffer’s sentiments – said that, to him, not having an announcement makes it even more crucial that Oscoda attends and has good representation on behalf of OWAA and the township.

“I agree,” said Trustee Timothy Cummings.

A motion confirming authorization for Schaeffer and Dickerson to attend the Cape Canaveral event passed 6-0, with Treasurer Jaimie McGuire not in attendance.

In related business, a press release was issued by MAMA on Jan. 28, which reads that, with the rapid development of horizontal and vertical space launch facilities coming to Michigan, MAMA is collaborating with partners such as the MEDC and the Michigan National Guard to build a command and control center to support the launch and daily operations of satellites.

MAMA has announced the start of a location search for a command and control center to manage commercial satellite operations and provide U.S. DOD support to branches like Space Force.

As noted in the press release, Michigan is leading Mid-America’s space efforts by creating an ecosystem of space technology, launch facilities and now a space communications ground support station. The high-tech communications center will be an important growth contributor to Michigan and the surrounding region economies, serving the LEO, MEO and hypersonic space industries.

“As we continue to build Michigan’s international space influence with technology, manufacturing, and launch assets, providing a communications telemetry center will enhance our leadership growth in the space satellite industry,” stated Brown. “Providing a complete ecosystem of value to the commercial and DOD space marketplace is what we are building.”

The process to select the site for a Michigan satellite command and control communications center began Jan. 28. MAMA will be accepting letters of interest from communities and entities through Feb. 14. Requests for information and the requirements detailing the process will be provided to qualified applicants, and site submissions will be evaluated on a variety of technical, economic and physical factors.

“Michigan’s people and rich history of building industries that lead the US, with engineering, technology, and manufacturing expertise, creates the basis for us to be leaders in space,” said Brown.

According to those from MAMA, the developing space industry in the state also complements its past and present leadership in the automotive industry. With satellites providing the future communications for autonomous vehicle technology, Michigan’s expansion into the space industry insures its technological edge for ground vehicles.

For more information about MAMA, visit www.michman.org.