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Proposed vertical rocket launch site near Marquette evokes emotions amid unanswered environmental questions

The Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association says complete environmental studies will take two or three years.
Published: Nov. 11, 2020 at 7:36 AM EST
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POWELL TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WLUC) - Editor’s Note: This is the first of two stories about a proposed vertical rocket launch site northwest of Marquette. Click here to read and watch part two.

A stretch of Lake Superior shoreline between Marquette and Big Bay is where deep emotions surrounding economic viability and environmental sustainability in Upper Michigan are colliding again.

“Preserving Lake Superior is an opportunity that we have that once we ignore that opportunity, we will never get it back,” said Jeanne Baumann.

Baumann lives in one of the homes on Buckroe’s Landing. Some of them date back a century.

“It’s a magical spot,” she said. “It’s just beautiful. It’s serene.”

Baumann and her neighbors fear their quiet life may be in danger because of the vertical rocket launch site proposed just beyond their property by the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA).

“We’re not building a Cape Canaveral,” said Gavin Brown, MAMA Executive Director. “And in fact, I would assure everybody that as stewards of this we look at it as not just being leaders and bringing the space ecosystem to the state of Michigan, but we also have to be good stewards of the air, land and water. That the environment itself is something, as a Northern Michigan resident, I take seriously.”

Renderings of potential vertical launch spaceport.
Renderings of potential vertical launch spaceport.(MAMA)

In July, MAMA announced some privately-owned Granot Loma Farms land just beyond Buckroe’s Landing could become a vertical rocket launch site. A state-funded feasibility study selected the location. Brown says the spaceport would only launch small lift class vehicles into low-earth orbit, or LEO, making the site’s footprint much smaller than other existing U.S. facilities.

Brown says the site will serve industries like autonomous technology, automotive, communications, medical, education and first responders. Michigan could meet demand for commercial, government and defense space launches, providing complete geographic broadband coverage, including 5G for electric vehicles anywhere in the United States.

“Our niche is going to be very specific in that servicing the LEO and the economy and the ecosystem built around that actually allows us to be a very new and refined, but I’m also going to throw this in there because I don’t think people understand, we’re going to be the first green spaceport,” he said.

Brown says the launches won’t use solid rocket fuel to get payloads into deep orbit.

“We’re not going to be doing that,” he said. “So we can look at alternative forms of propulsion, i.e.: using liquid oxygen, methane burning. The byproduct is water, water vapor. So when we look at what we will be doing on the carbon footprint, will be equal to or less than x amount of cars on the road. So we’re not dramatically putting an imprint of environmentally unfriendly chemicals into the land, air or water. That’s not what we’re going to do.”

Brown says complete environmental studies will take two or three years.

“We have not done any of that, because again, this is just a feasibility (study),” he said. “The process of that takes many years for noise, land, air, water. But I will tell you because we are utilizing green technology, that the risk associated with this will be on a scale that is below and or as carbon neutral as possible. It’s my goal to see if we can be carbon negative.”

Baumann wants to see those claims verified.

“I don’t know what we can do other than continuing to ask questions,” he said.

Click here to read a list of Frequently Asked Questions with answers from MAMA.

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