Wednesday, December 1, 2021

MLS announces first customer, shares designs for spaceport

  • November 24 2021
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

HALIFAX – “This is a project which will combine a perfect launch site, a perfect location and an excellent rocket,” said Volodymyr Taftai, head of Ukraine’s State Space Agency, at a press conference at the Halifax Security Forum on Nov. 19 announcing the first launch customer for Maritime Launch Services’ proposed spaceport for the Canso area.

That first launch customer will be the Texas-based company Nanoracks, the world’s leading commercial space services provider. The company owns and operates hardware on the International Space Station and has launched more than 1,300 research experiments and deployed more than 300 small satellites.

In an interview on Nov. 22, MLS CEO and President Steve Matier told The Journal that the contract with Nanoracks, signed in September and worth $45 million USD, was an important milestone for MLS, as “a defined and signed on launch customer for first launch [projected for 2023].”

MLS also announced Nova Scotia-based GALAXIA Mission Systems, an aerospace company, as an early customer in deploying small satellites.

“What’s unique with this is that Nanoracks has the principal payload, the technology demonstrator, for them and as one of the best mission integrators on the planet … having them also work with the other client [GALAXIA Mission Systems] to integrate their payloads with the extra space that’s available was really a great piece of collaboration,” said Matier.

Although MLS is still working toward meeting the conditions set by the Province of Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment under the approved environmental assessment, Matier said, “The real message for me is that we are well into pre-construction design and engineering; it is all about getting ready for the big construction,” which he anticipates will begin this spring.

Government support

Judging by the faces in the room for the announcement last week – including federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser; Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne; Canadian Space Agency president Lisa Campbell; provincial Economic Development Minister Susan Corkum-Greek; Head of the State Space Agency of Ukraine Volodymyr Taftai; President of International and Space Stations, Voyager Space, and Nanoracks co-founder Jeffrey Manber; representatives from Paqtnkek First Nation; and Municipality of the District of Guysborough’s (MODG) Director of Economic Development Gordon MacDonald –interest and support for the spaceport project is growing.

During his comments at the press conference, Matier acknowledged the MODG, stating, “Thank you for believing in us, challenging us and ultimately supporting us in what I think is a shared vison regarding the potential for this opportunity.”

Manber told those assembled, “It’s really wonderful to see the support and enthusiasm from the Canadian government.” He concluded his remarks by stating, “We’re extremely comfortable to be associated with the vehicle, with the industry and with the team.”

Launch control centre

In addition to announcing the first launch customer, MLS also revealed preliminary plans and drawings for the launch control centre – an on-site facility to manage all launch activities for the spaceport, which is now called Spaceport Nova Scotia (previously known as Canso Spaceport). The centre includes a visitor and educational centre, an area accessible to students to discover the science of space and explore careers in the sector. It will welcome students, tourists and community members to learn about space, opportunities in STEM-related education, and advancements within the aerospace sector.

During an MLS open house in Canso last month, it was this potential influx of visitors, along with spaceport operations, that was a cause of concern for the Canso / Hazel Hill Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tom Kavanaugh. The Journal asked Matier on Monday if plans had evolved for emergency services for the spaceport to date. He said he has been in contact with the emergency management officer for the MODG and that plans were being developed.

“Our plan does include that we will have a fully staffed 24/7, 365 days fire station – whether that ends up being a rework of the existing volunteer group in Canso or on our site, that is really the municipality’s call … we can go either direction. We can put the entire complex, fire trucks and everything else, on our site and staff it, or we can do it in conjunction with the town where, in my opinion, they’d see more of the direct benefit. In either case we will have mutual aid agreements in place,” said Matier.

First Nations support

A matter that also stood out at the open house last month was opposition to the proposed Spaceport by some members of the Mi’kmaw Nation.

Matier told The Journal that discussions had begun between MLS and the nearest Mi’kmaw Nation to the launch site in Canso – Paqtnkek— in 2017, adding, “I think we’ve got a fantastic opportunity to build a collaboration that really gives them some significant benefit.”

At the provincial level, MLS signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019 with the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO)—an organization formed to work on behalf of the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia which takes direction from the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs --and has been working to finalize a benefits agreement with KMKNO over the past six months.

MLS will continue to work with, provide information to and invite community members to learn about the project, said Matier.

Spaceport benefits

While many may look at the proposed Spaceport and think of the economic benefits, a project that brings Nova Scotia in the $400 billion a year commercial space industry projected to grow into a trillion per year by 2040, and detractors have concerns about the environmental impact of both the construction and operation of the facility, Matier told The Journal that what many failed to see were the benefits “that come out of this kind of activity for Canada and for monitoring our environment.”

These benefits include satellites for broadband, near-earth imaging and an innovative project to monitor for methane gas-leaks in western Canada, he said.

“The benefits to the environment, with the opportunities that come with these satellites, I think, is really being missed in the discussion,” said Matier.

The excitement at the Nov. 19 announcement was evident, no more so than when Taftai presented Matier with a scale model of the Cyclone-4M launch vehicle. Matier held the rocket in his hand, and he hopes to soon hold it in his eye as it makes Canadian space history with the first launch from the proposed spaceport in the Canso area.

Next steps for the project include completing EA conditions, moving forward with engineering plans and finalizing the terms of a 40-year lease of Crown land with the province. MLS has completed the required crown land certified survey and land valuation and are working through the insurance process before the lease application can be given the go ahead by the Minister of Natural Resources.