It might sound like a moonshot, but a group of science and space enthusiasts wants Maine to become America’s leader in sending tiny satellites into space.
The tentative plan for the ambitious project is to use a pair of former air bases as the homes of an operation that would launch CubeSat satellites, so-called nanosatellites no bigger than toasters. The former Loring Air Force Base in far northern Maine would serve as the launch site, while the former Brunswick Naval Air Station closer to the state’s busy coast would house mission control.
The effort’s architects aren’t just baking pie in the sky. Project director and Maine Space Grant Consortium executive director Terry Shehata has some powerful allies interested in getting the plan into orbit.
Maine Technology Institute has awarded $50,000 for a feasibility study, while Maine Space Grant Consortium, which is supported by National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has committed more than $88,000.
The next step is to find out whether there’s a market for such a facility in Maine, a state with a small tech sector but lots of open sky to send satellites into.
“It does sound crazy, but why not?” Shehata said. “Why not see if people can get excited about investing in a new space economy that would be the tide that raises all boats.”
Project backers will likely know by next fall if the project, which will take years and millions of dollars to complete, is possible, Shehata said. The work going on right now is focused on determining whether there is enough interest from the private sector to support a nanosatellite facility in Maine, and if there is, the development of the programme itself would follow.
Shehata said he sees the Brunswick mission control facility as a business and science incubator with a strong component for children’s education. In fact, he likes the idea of collaborating with Maine high school students to build the satellites.
The project’s application to Maine Technology Institute calls the facility SpacePort Maine and states that there are currently ten spaceports in the US, but all but one of them are designed to launch large rockets, while SpacePort would focus on smaller, lower-cost vehicles.
It also states that the project would be a union of public and private agencies working together to “give rise to a new Maine space technology cluster”.