Saturday, January 28, 2023

Spaceport project’s momentum continues in 2023

MLS signs deal with launch services provider

  • January 18 2023
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH – Maritime Launch Services (MLS), proponent of Spaceport Nova Scotia to be located at Canso, and Spaceflight Inc., a launch and in-space transportation services provider with headquarters in Seattle, has announced they’ve signed an agreement to launch up to five orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) aboard the Cyclone-4M rocket beginning in 2025.

MLS and Spacefight announced the deal in a news release last week. The Journal interviewed MLS CEO Steve Matier and Curt Blake, CEO and president of Spaceflight, about the agreement.

Matier told The Journal that the Spaceport Nova Scotia project has seen one advancement after another over the past year, bringing the facility closer to a reality. He said agreements such as the one with Spaceflight Inc. is yet another significant step.

He said Spaceflight Inc. is “world renown and very important in the packaging of CubeSats [a square-shaped miniature satellite] …They can buy dedicated launches or they can help us with rideshare fill up. It’s a key accomplishment for us to have them be on our team and to sign up to a five launch, multi-launch term sheet.”

While the public hears about such agreements after they’ve been signed, The Journal asked Matier what goes into making these deals, the time frame and negotiations.

“Where things have really shifted for us [MLS] is with the start of construction – internationally the world saw this is happening and we’ve had nothing but a significant ramp up of these kinds of collaborations since that time,” said Matier, adding, “What goes into it, though, is the negotiation on the price per kilogram, the space allotments they need, the type of support, whose going to pay for what.

“For example, this five-launch deal can range from several thousand kilograms up to a full launch potential…so that’s what goes into that discussion, negotiation, is what do they need, when do they need it, how much do we have available…all those activities go into this negotiation,” said Matier.

Spaceflight Inc. has successfully launched more than 550 spacecraft in collaboration with numerous launch partners since it was founded in 2011. The Journal asked Matier what Spaceport Nova Scotia brought to the table to entice Spaceflight to Canada.

Firstly, Matier said, the launch location at the Spaceport Nova Scotia site is unique, with the capability to launch in the full spectrum of 45 to 98 degrees over the ocean, “and that range of inclination is really hard to find anywhere in one place around the world where you’ve got that kind of access.”

Secondly, Matier said, “The opportunity that comes with a multi-launch deal is really one of the foundational pieces to negotiating the pricing. If it’s one mission, one time, we have our set price: it’s $45 million US for five tons – that’s $9,000 per kilogram. If someone wants to buy five missions from us though, clearly, we’re going to go into a mode of negotiating.”

Spaceflight’s Blake wrote via email that Spaceflight was “always eager to expand our launch portfolio with new launch vehicle partners to provide unique and flexible launch options for our customers. Maritime Launch Services is Spaceflight’s first vehicle partner to launch from a commercial spaceport in North America, an exciting venture that Spaceflight is thrilled to be a part of. Along with this, the Cyclone-4M offers a wide range of capabilities, including its ability to carry our Sherpa OTVs to orbit. All of this makes MLS an ideal launch vehicle partner as Spaceflight continues to expand its launch options for customers.”

When asked about the pricing incentive MLS offered compared to other launch competitors, Blake wrote, “We aren’t disclosing pricing at this time. Pricing depends on a wide variety of variables, including mass, volume, orbit, etc. and the price per kilogram aboard the Cyclone-4M is competitive with other launch vehicles on the market.”

The Journal asked Blake about the 2025 timeline for launch noted in the agreement and if the project is launch-ready or still in development. He responded, “Spaceflight does not have specific customers signed up for these missions yet, but we are looking forward to launching our Sherpa OTVs aboard Maritime Launch Services’ launch vehicles.”

Blake explained, “OTVs, commonly referred to as ‘space tugs,’ are vehicles capable of transporting payloads from one orbit to another. By providing last-mile delivery of satellites to their final orbital destination, OTVs enable customers to cut mission costs by removing or reducing a satellite’s need for onboard propulsion and allowing access to more unique orbits. With separate propulsion from the launch vehicle, the OTV extends rocket capabilities to enable multiple orbital drop-offs and enhance flexibility and customization for mission planning.”

Looking beyond the announcement last week, Matier told The Journal that he expected a very busy quarter ahead “of some very cool activities, important work that will really be beneficial for us moving forward.”

Matier added, “I think it’s fair to say that we had a really great amount of momentum in [20]22 with the financing we received, the listing on the NEO exchange, the start of construction, the land lease being completed, announcement of some vehicles and some satellite clients, and really just picking up that pace is what we see continuing into this year with again the same kinds of things: the financing, launch vehicles, the satellite clients and the activity out at the Spaceport which of course we’ve got the road construction still going even today [Jan. 11], to get down to the launch pad site.”

In a recent Municipality of the District of Guysborough council meeting, Deputy Warden Janet Peitzsche made mention of the road construction on the Spaceport site and noted that there were some issues getting workers. Asked about this comment, Matier said, “What she is speaking of is the overall problem that everyone in the construction industry has had to deal with this last year with the amount of work needed to get accomplished and the amount of workforce available. Even the cost of materials is up and inflation costs…We’ve been delighted to have people in the community of Canso supporting us, and around the region there supporting us, with roadwork activities…We’re on track with everything we’re doing. There’s nothing directly that we have been impacted with, but I believe that it is certainly a true comment for the construction industry across the province and the region, and quite frankly, North America, from what I can tell.”

As road construction continues into 2023, The Journal asked Matier about plans for first launch, a sub-orbital launch reportedly scheduled for no earlier than the second quarter of 2023 with Reaction Dynamics.

Matier said, “The Phase I suborbital launch that we’re working on, right now we’re deep into the planning for that to try to finalize an agreement with a vehicle and getting ourselves prepared to do it working with our federal partners on it. There’ll be more on that in the coming weeks.”