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Space port could open in Sheboygan in next 10 years

Private space flights could be launched from Wisconsin in the next ten years, according to a proposal that has passed the Joint Finance Committee 14-1 and could reach the Senate for a vote this month. State Senator Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, has a vision of a private spaceport in Wisconsin that would be regulated similarly to airports.

Leibham’s bill, SB 352, would establish a Wisconsin Aerospace Authority to regulate private space travel in the area, receive any potential federal grants, and coordinate activity between the public and private sectors in setting up a spaceport in Sheboygan to launch private rockets over Lake Michigan.

The impact would not be immediate. The Aerospace Authority would initially have no budget and not set up any actual spaceport, instead functioning as an entity through which studies could be coordinated and money received, investigating the feasibility and infrastructure requirements for setting up a spaceport before real progress could be made. Leibham is hopeful that it can be done.

“We actually have a window into space from the Sheboygan lakefront,” Leibham explained, noting the restricted airpsace over Sheboygan where amateur sub-orbital rockets are launched as part of the Rockets For Schools program.

Wisconsin's latitude, Leibham says, provides a better launching point to get the International Space Station than current traditional launch sites like Florida. Lake Michigan provides a large, unpopulated area over which to launch, and it is generally more favorable to go over water than over land. Additionally, it is better to launch to the east than to the west, to best take advantage of the planet’s rotation. Altogether, these attributes could make Wisconsin a key player as private space travel develops into a billion-dollar industry over the next ten years, according to Leibham.
“We believe that we should at least lay the groundwork so that if this industry wants to come to Wisconsin, and come to Sheboygan, we’ve got the appropriate launchpad in place so that we can build on that new economic frontier,” Leibbham said.

The idea first came about seven years ago, said local businessman Jim Testuide, who serves on the board of the Sheboygan Development Corportation and is treasurer of the Rockets For Schools program.

“We decided, why limit us to small things, let’s try a little bigger,” said Testuide, “and with the advent of really new technology—space planes, small, reusable tourist type vehicles—we felt that would be viable off the shore of Sheboygan as a takeoff and landing spot.”

One supporter of the measure, state Senator Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, admitted that it did sound far-fetched at first. “My initial reaction was: how are we going to get the DNR to approve space flights in Wisconsin?” Kanavas said. He also found it hard to believe people would pick Wisconsin as a site to launch spaceships. But consultation with Leibham and various private contractors convinced Kanavas that the proposal did in fact have some merit.

“Then I found out a great deal about our positioning as it relates to the geography in Wisconsin, and I learned more about the vibrant industry this is becoming, and how big of an industry it’s becoming, and suddenly it all became a lot more clear,” Kanavas said. And the proposal could boost Wisconsin’s stature when it comes to the manufacturing of aerospace equipment, as well as generating tourism dollars.

One businessman enthusiastic about the proposal is George French, CEO of private aerospace company Rocketplane, which hopes to send private citizens 60 miles up for a thrill few have previously experienced.

“The space industry is beginning to move forward in the commercial sector. Up until now it’s primarily been governmental,” French said, but the private sector is getting in motion. Already, about 150 reservations have been made with private companies for $200 thousand each, simply awaiting the infrastructure to make the flights.

“I think we will see commercial space travel in two to three years. The vehicles that can do that can fly out of Sheboygan if there were an FAA-certified spaceport in Sheboygan,” French said.

French cautioned, however, that while the technology could be within reach, the real-world infrastructure is still some way off from making such a dream into reality on a large scale. “I think realistically, that we’re still a long way; we may be ten years away," he said.


Tom Tikusis responded 9 years ago: #1

I find this idea of a spaceport next to Lake Michigan, in Sheboygan, very disturbing. Just because a company has grand plans to send a few rich people 60 miles up for a short joy ride, we are willing to risk the pollution, noise, and probability of an aborted mission raining debris on cities across the Lake. It sounds like our politicians will do anything to accumulate power and money. Wait and see how the political contributuins come in, and the crony, political appointments that will be made to the state aerospace commission. This is a real joke.

Mort Johrurn responded 9 years ago: #2

This is absolute nonsense. This is a very big waste of tax payer money, and Lake Michigan is already suffering from the effects of aggregious developers destroying the shoreline. Unless we want to write Lake Michigan completely off and focus on preserving what is left of the Lake Superior coastline, this is a complete waste of time, and a toxic eyesore waiting to liftoff.

Derrick - Eau Claire responded 9 years ago: #3

The previous commentators are failing to see the big picture. Speculating about some future disaster is a waste of time. Cape Kennedy in Florida generates millions of dollars in tourism annually. This money is used to preserve the huge wetland area surrounding Cape Kennedy, as well as the Florida coastline.

The efforts to keep Lake Michigan clean are not going very well because there are not enough dollars available to do so. In order to generate the dollars needed you can either boost the economy with new industry, tourism, and technology. Or you can raise taxes.

I prefer to send rich people into space. I would prefer to send them all into space actually. But I digress.

Back to the point, I think this is a great idea, and I applaud those involved for being visionaries in the future of Wisconsin.

Katy responded 9 years ago: #4

I used to live and work in Huntsville, Alabama, a huge space town. I worked in the space musuem. You would be surprised what this could do for the state and the economy. I think people are getting upset over things that will not happen. This will not leak toxic fuel into our envirnoment, this will not have pieces of random space junk falling into the lake. The Spaceport at Kennedy is in the middle of a wildlife refuge. I think it is a great idea that will draw smart people into our state. We need to stop worring about what we think might happen and get the facts before we oppose or back something. I say congratulations to Wisconsin for looking into the future!

Tim o Thy responded 9 years ago: #5

A space port in Sheboygan could be a great benefit to the whole State of Wisconsin. It is also a sign you have way too much money you don't know what to do with. Before the state allows for this space port let's just raise taxes on the wealthiest space travelers and the state will have the money to protect the lake without having to go into space to get it.

Logan responded 8 years ago: #6

I believe that this spaceport could only be good for Wisconsin. Sure, initially the cost will be very expensive and only the rich will be able to fly for fun. However, this is the case with all new technologies, and the rate at which this field is advancing will allow average people to fly anywhere from five to 10 years after the spaceport is constructed. The third commenter also makes a good point about conservation in the area.

Jeff responded 8 years ago: #7

Uhhhh one word: winter. What is the primary reason that the aerospace industry is located in the south, most notably Florida, Texas, and California? Year-round favorable weather! The idea to invest millions of dollars of taxpayer money in an idea that would only be functional, at best, four months out of the year makes me think of one more word: stupid. Utterly brain-dead stupid.

Christine responded 8 years ago: #8

I think that those with space port plans in Wisconsin would have thought about winter - no I KNOW they would have - so we can assume that it will still function as desired even with our winters.

Katy's comment about conservation is a very good one. I go to school in Florida and have been on Kennedy's site many times, and I always marvel at the beauty of the acres of well kept wildlife surrounding the area. If we get a spaceport in Sheboygan, it will only enhance the beauty of the area by giving us the funds necessary to protect it.

This space travel is going down whether we join in or not... but once it becomes as normal as getting on a plane, are we going to regret not being one of the first? Will we regret being left behind as other spaceports, such as the ones in the SW, gain all the revenue? Not to mention all the employment opportunities. I'd love to move back to Wisconsin, but as of right now, there are no jobs in these science and aerospace fields.

John Llewellyn responded 8 years ago: #9

The Wildlife Refuge surrounding Kennedy Space Center isn't there for the birds, it's a miles-wide buffer zone designed to protect people and property in the event of a launch vehicle exploding or going out of control.

jibba responded 8 years ago: #10

Jeff, NASA launches from FLA because the position closer to the equator, taking advantage of Earth's rotation, and making it to space more efficiently.

You could argue then that this is by NM's spaceport is a better idea than WI's. Private companies will not launch from WI when they can find a location to do it more cheaply and efficiently from.

Mark responded 8 years ago: #11

THis would be cool. The tourism, potential boom to the state economy would be huge. According to what I have seen, this would be the only spaceport in the north central part of the country. On the question about winter, hasn't the Soviet Union/Russia been our largest competitor in the space race? Don't they have winter?

Bayfire responded 8 years ago: #12

We're also leaping into the idea that these spaceports would be Cape Kennedy-like. Instead, they would be more like vertical airports. The reason private companies can even speculate on affording them is the lower cost of vehicles that are high flying planes rather than rockets, which even NASA can't afford.

Kdub responded 8 years ago: #13

It sounds like all the people who are against this are the older population of Sheboygan. Let's not forget that Sheboygan and it's aging wheelchair of factory workers cannot sustain itself forever. This is an excellent opportunity to create some jobs for the educated that aren't in the healthcare field. As a current federal employee who is sick of a daily commute to Milwaukee, I'll be among the first to apply if and when this spaceport goes through.

Leonard Johnson responded 7 years ago: #14

The vision for a future spaceport in Sheboygan would generate much high-tech. economical growth for the Midwest; especially Wisconsin. The spaceports location on the western shores of Lake Michigan are very strategic and would pose no detriments to the population or the eco-system. Safety and environmentally friendly are the key aerospace goals for success in such an endeavor. Financial benefits beyond the stratosphere would contribute heavily to the economy, education and the American way.

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