Michigan satellite initiative sets sights on 2022

If the folks at the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA) have their way, Michigan will still be part of the next space race.

MAMA, a Sterling Heights-based group made up of Michigan’s aerospace and defense manufacturing firms, unveiled their plans last year to send satellites into orbit from a launch facility in Michigan. The program, dubbed the Michigan Launch Initiative (MLI), would see a private launch site for commercial satellites established in the northern part of the state.

But it will take funding. MAMA estimates an infrastructure investment budget of $50 to 75 million, and a $2.5 million grant from Michigan taxpayers was pulled earlier this year over concerns there was a lack of direction in the project.

It hasn’t stopped investment-raising efforts though. Recently MAMA representatives met with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to brief her about the MLI and the Northern Michigan Business Consortium met to review the technology and economic development opportunities associated with the launch initiative. MAMA are hosting a pavilion at this week’s 10th annual Michigan Defense Expo to raise interest in the project and the group’s 2019 Space Symposium in Traverse City in September will focus on the program.

At full capacity, MAMA hopes the MLI launch site will be able to conduct 22 to 25 launches per year, with a command center operating for northern tracking operations. According to MAMA, the estimated revenue per launch is $15 million, or $375 million per year. The launch facility site selection is planned for June this year and funding, permits and an environmental impact study is slated to be completed by the third quarter of 2020. Construction would take place in 2021 and the first launch in early 2022.

“Northern Michigan is uniquely positioned for a polar orbit satellite launch facility: low density population, extensive restricted airspace, interstate highway system accessible, engineering and manufacturing capacity,” says MAMA executive director, Gavin Brown.

Brown believes satellite technology will be a major focus of the aerospace industry's future, and has a very tangible impact on our daily lives.

"For instance, every transaction you have at the grocery store, the gas station—what a lot of people don't realize is that is bouncing off a satellite," he says. "With autonomous cars and such, talking to one another, the demand for that instantaneous transformation of data is going to grow and expand."

Multiple aerospace companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, ISRO, ESA Vega, Firefly Aerospace and the US Department of Defense, have plans to launch satellites into LEO over the next decade and Brown says two companies have already expressed their intent to use the Michigan launch facility.

Read more articles by Kate Roff.

Kate Roff is an award-winning freelance writer and journalism educator, currently based out of Detroit. She is the managing editor of Metromode and Model D. Contact her at kroff@issuemediagroup.com