A new aerospace research center for the construction of hypersonic rockets for space exploration is coming to the Presque Isle International Airport Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The $4.5 million aerospace research center to be built at Presque Isle International Airport will develop hypersonic rockets to be used in space flight.

VALT Enterprizes Inc., which employs 13 people at one of the airport hangars, hopes to expand its workforce to 126 people when the facility is built next spring. The company will focus on developing high-speed or hypersonic propulsion rockets, which will be tested west of Ashland in remote parts of the northern Maine woods.

Although there may be a better base of scientists and engineers in more urban areas of the state, the rural nature of Aroostook County is an ideal place for industries such as this that need remote places to test what they build without endangering population centers.

The company will use the $4.5 million Economic Development grant to design the research center over the winter and construction should begin in spring 2023.

The aerospace research center will be a 16,000-square-foot facility housing a combination of laboratories, shop space and office space. VALT will be able to construct the rockets on site at the airport, according to airport Director Scott Wardwell, who was one of five people who submitted the application for grant money in spring 2022 to the Economic Development Administration. 

“It has a lot to do with the sparse population. There are great opportunities for launching rockets west of here. We won’t be launching rockets from the airport itself,” Wardwell said.

The vast majority of jobs will be engineers and scientists that will design and construct the test propulsion systems and rockets, he said.

“What hypersonics allows you to do is it gives you access to space without having to carry large tanks of oxidizer,” Wardwell said.

VALT came to Presque Isle in 2021, but needed room to expand into a new research center, Wardwell said.

Once the research center is up and running, Wardwell hopes to add 10 more tenants.

“Basically we want to be an aerospace research center with a heavy focus on flight testing,” Wardwell said. “We think this will allow the local economy to be diversified.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly represented the size of the proposed aerospace research center.