05 Dec 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.