Former Michigan Air Force base in U.P. selected as command center for aerospace economy plan

The former home of an Air Force base in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has been picked for the location of a command and control center as part of an ambitious plan to make the state a major player in the aerospace economy. 

The Detroit Free Press reports the Chippewa County International Airport, near Sault Ste. Marie, was selected by Michigan's Launch Initiative program Thursday. It was home to the former Kincheloe Air Force Base until it closed in 1977. 

It is a final selection of locations for core infrastructure. Earlier, an area near Marquette along Lake Superior was selected for vertical launches of satellites. Horizontal launches would be at Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport.

The program as a whole, if it becomes reality, could generate 40,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, said Gavin Brown, executive director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association, which has taken the lead advocating for the project. Backers say the command center could employ up to 100 people. 

In this handout provided by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), back dropped by planet Earth the International Space Station (ISS) is seen from NASA space shuttle Endeavour.

If the project raises the required money and gets the needed approvals, the command center could begin to operate in June 2023. Target dates are August 2023 for the horizontal launch site and August 2025 for the vertical launch site. 

The project would be a shot in the arm to Michigan-based aerospace companies and to automakers, as they develop their communications and other technology, Brown said. 

"We have the human talent, the manufacturing prowess, the critical infrastructure and the technical expertise to position our state as a leader in this dynamic field," he said.

Some have raised concerns about the environmental impacts of satellite launches. 

Total costs haven't been finalized, though Brown said most of the money would come from private firms. Many state lawmakers have expressed support for the project. The state previously contributed $2 million for a feasibility study.