If you build it …
October 5, 2022
Nova Scotia’s spaceport is just breaking ground for construction, but supplier agreements are already expanding.
Maritime Launch Services (MLS) — whose launch pad is about 3.5 hours East of Halifax, in the town of Canso — has recently signed two letters of intent to bring small payloads aloft. For MLS president and CEO Stephen Matier, that is just the beginning.
Matier told Research Money the obvious market opportunity to begin is "constellations", which refers to groups of satellites that fly into space as swarms to provide broadband or Earth observation services. This cost-effective strategy has become popular, with SpaceX's Starlink network being the most famous example. There are other companies that are likewise looking to bring their own satellite groups into space.
"Our overall market approach is really, the constellation market," Matier said. While MLS will start with small rockets, in a few years they plan to "ramp up to about eight launches a year with a medium-class launcher, and a few launches [annually] for smaller."
Location, location, location
No less strategic is the MLS site on the end of a peninsula jutting directly into the Atlantic Ocean. Matier descries this location as "phenomenally important", since it provides a range of inclinations for rocket launches, and consequently a wider array of planetary orbits. While there are numerous other spaceports around the world vying for this kind of business, many of them are located in places that do not provide as many orbital options as Canso.
The famed Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for example, can easily offer equatorial flights over the Atlantic Ocean. However, getting into a polar orbit is impossible from there, since it would mean overflying a huge coastal population to the north.
It has only been a few weeks since MLS got permission to starting building its facility, but the organization has already announced two supplier partnerships, in Canada and the United Kingdom. The latest customer is Scotland-based start-up Skyrora, which is offering a small launch vehicle to send payloads a bit higher than the International Space Station's orbit — 500 km to 1,000 km — along a pathway that can keep the sun at a consistent angle on the surface below the satellite. That kind of positioning is attractive for satellites that depend on defined lighting conditions to conduct activities such as studying environmental changes in landscape. Skyrora’s rocket can also place vehicles in a polar orbit between 200 km and 1,000 km in orbit, which allows a satellite to move in a way that regularly surveys the entire Earth's surface.
“Our partnership allows MLS to take the lead in the Canadian launch sector, by purchasing its own vehicles to offer launch cadences, while also allowing for Skyrora to open up more inclination and orbits to our client base, due to the ideal location of a Nova Scotia spaceport,” a Skyora spokesperson told Research Money in an e-mail.
Skyora alluded to the importance of offering launch services outside of the United Kingdom, even though the country is hosting its own start-up launch facility in Cornwall. Neverthless, each of these facilities has its own advantages, prompting Skyora to look for opportunities to expand the range of orbits and routes to space.
"Society is becoming more connected and data driven, which is why having launch capability is becoming key to most sovereign governments," Skyora officials added in their e-mail.
Looking to a Canadian clean fuel launch
Earlier this year, MLS signed a letter of intent with Quebec-based Reaction Dynamics to launch clean-tech rockets that use a liquid oxidizer and polymer-based solid fuel. Like Skyora, Reaction Dynamics is only partly through its testing regime. However, if this innovation is successful, the company's rocket fuel could generate 60 per cent less greenhouse gas than other rockets — an attractive feature as global rocket traffic increases.
In fact, the first launch from Canso is expected to burn Reaction Dynamics fuel, something that could happen in 2023, if technology, regulations, construction schedules, and other logistical stars align. In late August, MLS got final approve to start building on Crown land, the culmination of an environmental assessment that began in 2019. As is common with launch facilities, MLS will lease this land, with a 20-year agreement covering approximately 135 hectares near Canso, Little Dover, and Hazel Hill.
According to Matier, the company will directly employ about 125 people, and is expecting a network of suppliers in numerous fields, such as plumbers, pipe fitters, security and protective services and fire services.
"That is all providing economic impact and opportunity, and new employment in the community there as well," Matier said. "Second to that, of course, is housing and caring for all these people, whether it's during a launch campaign or whether it's actual core people that are operating a facility. There's going to be a significant increase in economic benefits impacts such as restaurants, hotels, etc. to that community."