TRAVERSE CITY — The former Pugsley Correctional Facility near Fife Lake lost its bid to reach for the stars when the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association on Thursday named Chippewa County International Airport, near Sault Ste. Marie, the site of its new command and control center.
The Chippewa airport, which was Kincheloe Air Force Base until 1977, and Pugsley were among four potential locations named as finalists for the center.
Grand Traverse Economic Development, the commercial investment arm of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, bought the Pugsley facility in 2020 with the goal of transforming it into a technology hub.
The other finalists were Battle Creek Air National Guard Base and the decommissioned K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Marquette County.
Site selection — led by spaceport consultants BRPH and Kimley-Horn — was based on many factors, according to a release from the association, including community support, constructability, existing communication infrastructure and established workforce and aerospace industry.
“This large and contiguous site in Chippewa has existing facilities that can easily be converted to support the command and control center’s mission,” association Executive Director Gavin Brown said in the release.
“It also has early radar line of sight tracking for the horizontal and vertical launch sites to support our Michigan Launch Initiative. The Chippewa community’s strong partnerships within the aerospace industry and its established aerospace labor market will allow for immediate support for the center.”
The association, known as MAMA, in 2020 selected the two other locations crucial for its Michigan Launch Initiative: a horizontal launch site at Oscoda-Wurthsmith Airport and a vertical launch site just north of Marquette. The new command and control center in Chippewa County will enable the initiative to interface with the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies, the release stated.
The Department of Defense plans to launch 17,000 low earth orbit satellites during the next decade, according to the release.
Chippewa County’s command and control center will support both Michigan launch sites and will provide classified and unclassified capabilities for the DOD and commercial space organizations. It also will manage research and development for high-speed suborbital flights.
The initiative is working to obtain licensing approvals for both its proposed launch sites. Operations are expected to begin at the Oscoda-Wurthsmith Airport horizontal launch site in 2023 or 2024, and at the Marquette vertical launch site by early 2025.
In June 2019, the Michigan Legislature appropriated $2 million to assess the feasibility of developing one or more low-orbit launch sites in the state. Michigan is well positioned to meet the demand for commercial, government and defense space launches. The section of Michigan north of the 45th parallel is perfectly situated for polar orbit launches, the release stated.
MAMA is a member-supported organization that serves the interests of Michigan’s aerospace and defense manufacturing firms. More information is available at www.michman.org.