Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport employee Kevin Hunt, left, was recognized at the Nov. 21 meeting of the airport authority for his 25 years of service. He is pictured here receiving a plaque, from authority chair Kevin Boyat, commemorating his dedication. It was during the same meeting when approval was granted for two airport representatives to attend a spaceport facilities site visit in Florida.

OSCODA – The Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport Authority (OWAA) has authorized participation in a spaceport facilities site visit, through the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA). The approval was granted, among other action, at OWAA’s Nov. 21 meeting.

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

Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport (OWA) Manager Gary Kellan notes that the visits are scheduled for Feb. 4-7, 2020, and participation is limited to a total of 15 individuals.

He added that MAMA’s executive director, Gavin Brown, also contacted the OWA office directly to encourage attendance by airport authority representatives. “I take that as a good sign.”

Kellan said he asked Brown how things were going with the review process for OWA and, while Brown reported that Oscoda was receiving favorable comments, he also said he was not yet ready to share any of this.

Kellan told Brown that he feels OWA is in a strong position as it relates to the horizontal launch, but he isn’t sure how the site is being evaluated in terms of vertical launch possibilities. The only response from Brown was that Kellan’s instincts were good.

Kellan said he also viewed it as a positive sign that MAMA was proactive in inviting the airport authority to the group site visits.

In the newsletter, Brown states that MAMA is presently engaged in Phase I work on the Michigan Launch Initiative (MLI). As reported, this 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 is planning to announce the sites which meet and exceed the highest value, in mid to late January 2020. “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.”

Brown says MAMA was with various Michigan interests recently, meeting with Florida based commercial and governmental organizations – including NASA, ULA and Boeing – and visiting the sites of emerging space delivery companies.

For the event in February, 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 are being scheduled.”

As previously reported, it was after the MLI site visit in Oscoda when it was divulged that the preferred spaceport location in Michigan would be announced on Jan. 2, 2020. Upon choosing the Michigan site, the candidate will then have to compete nationally for licensing through the FAA Space System program.

Kellan said the reason this was bumped out to later in January, as relayed to him by Brown, is so the site selection committee can hold a meeting with the governor and share their findings with her first, before it is announced publicly.

Given the limited number of attendees who can join the Cape Canaveral event, Kellan said he wanted to secure two slots – with OWAA paying the travel, lodging and meal expenses – and was seeking potential authorization for same. There was no mention during the meeting of what the total cost may be.

The authority voted 6-0 to send Kellan and OWAA member Dave Dailey to the event. Aaron Weed, OWAA representative for Oscoda Township, was not in attendance.

Member Rob Huebel asked why Kellan believed OWA would be a good candidate for horizontal launches.

As Kellan has explained in the past, 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.

Additionally, zoning protections would have to be put in place  in these areas, as it relates to future high density development.

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.

Dailey said that if Oscoda isn’t selected for this, there are a couple other possibilities in Alabaster Township, including a USG Corporation structure in Lake Huron. “If we can’t have it on the airport, at least we can have it in Iosco County. We need to look at those.”

Kellan said he spoke with the Alabaster Township Supervisor and was given contact information for a USG representative, in order to introduce the concept, which had yet to be done at the time of the meeting.

In related discussions, public comments were given by Oscoda resident Lary Holland.

“Keep treating the airport as a significant economic development vehicle,” he began.

Holland said he is banking on OWA being selected, and that he has been tracking all of the aerospace and defense activity which has been occurring in Michigan since the word starting coming in.

For example, he said Thomson Aerospace & Defense in Saginaw announced last month that they are rebuilding and expanding their headquarters, in a more than $20 million investment.

“R2 Space is relocating to Ann Arbor. That was just announced this morning,” Holland continued of the entity’s corporate headquarters expansion, which will include a satellite operations missions center.

He pointed out that, when discussing horizontal and vertical options, there is also command and control. “Which is a third location.”

Holland remarked that, if OWA is only chosen for horizontal operations, there will be a Phase II application in which they can also make their case as a backup vertical site.

He then stressed that the launch aspect and the industry are two separate things. “So, even if a different site is selected just for the launch component, this is the site for the industry component, no matter what.”

He encouraged OWAA to keep reaching out to companies and said that, as a business owner, he has a vested interest in seeing that this goes through without a hitch.

“My company, Tier 4, has put fiber optics in the ground all the way from the beach, all the way down to my building,” Holland continued. “These endeavors are not cheap, and they’re all investments on the idea that this is coming. We don’t want to gamble on an idea that we’re making a bad investment in the community so, as we see the airport capital improvement plans keep going in the right direction, as we start seeing site readiness activities, I get more and more excited.”

As has been reported in this publication, the idea for a Michigan spaceport site would involve satellites ranging in size from a shoebox to a refrigerator. There is a growing need for satellite based systems in Lower Earth Orbit, with this network serving everything from voice and data communications, weather monitoring and autonomous vehicles, to military defense needs, global Internet access and GPS.

In other business, OWA maintenance employee Kevin Hunt was recognized by the airport authority for his 25 years of service.

Kellan commented that, in this day and age when people tend to move around a lot more, it is not as common to have these types of recognitions as it once was.

To identify a person who has been with this organization for 25 years, “I don’t know if we’ve ever had any,” he said. “This is the first one that’s been with us that long. And I think that’s only part of it.”

Kellan further noted that Hunt’s military days, and the time he spent on the caretaker force, actually puts his involvement at the more than 30-year mark. “So 25 years is not the full pictured.”

Kellan recognized Hunt for his years of dedication, adding that he appreciates all the work he has done.

This was echoed by OWAA Chairman Kevin Boyat, who then presented Hunt with a plaque to commemorate the milestone.

In separate matters, OWAA also acted on the following:

• Approved a three-year contract extension with T & K Arnold LLC – through Dec. 31, 2022 – which completes OWAA’s bookkeeping/accounting requirements, in addition to providing assistance with grant funded projects that are regularly implemented by OWAA. The fee will remain at $50,276 per year, which Kellan said has been the same since October 2013.

• Approved OWAA’s participation in the annual Northern Lights Parade in downtown Oscoda, on Dec. 7, which will include decorating one of the airport vehicles for the procession.