Maritime Launch Services (MLS) is seeking to fill a Canadian need for getting rockets off the ground, without asking companies to cross borders.
As we recently discussed in Research Money, MLS — whose Canso-based launch pad is about 3.5 hours east of Halifax — wants to put small payloads into space via suppliers such as Scotland-based Skyora and Quebec's Reaction Dynamics.
"There is pent-up demand globally; the industry itself is $400 billion a year, and headed for a trillion dollars a year by 2031," MLS president and CEO Stephen Matier told Research Money. In other words, despite competition from Florida's famed Kennedy Space Center and from emergent pads in places like New Zealand, Canada has room to play the launch services game.
MLS is working on a "phased" approach to launch, split into two phases to run concurrently.
Phase 1 aims to have the first suborbital launch by the second quarter of 2022, which is no small feat given that MLS will be working with federal partners, such as Transport Canada and Nav Canada, to make sure it is meeting the regulatory requirements for the small launch. That means meeting treaties and compliances, as well as the necessary technology work on the part of its suppliers, Reaction Dynamics and Skyora.
The first launch, featuring Reaction Dynamics technology, will be what showcases the capabilities of MLS to the community, Matier said. He emphasized it is achievable in the short term, given that suborbital launches require minimal infrastructure.
"It'll give us some experience in flight heritage and building that relationship between us and the federal government, which are the regulators in this case," he said, adding that this should set the stage for the first orbital launch around 2024.
Phase 2 — already in its earliest stages — will include building the roads, integration facility, wells, power, building facilities, and everything else to make MLS able to supply facilities for a medium-class launcher. This slightly bigger rocket will allow suppliers to launch even more small satellites into orbit at a time, providing the revenue for MLS to further expand operations.
"Our overall market approach is really the constellation market," Matier said, referring to the sets of small satellites that all work together in orbit for a single purpose, such as broadband Internet or Earth observation. "We'll be ramping up to about eight launches a year with the medium-class launcher and a few [other] launches for smaller."
For a company yet to send its first launch into orbit, Matier said the key is to pick achievable goals. Everything he mentioned is "completely comfortable" with the MLS management team and the network of people working with them, he said.
"We're not going to, say, launch once a week or some of the crazy stuff that you read in the news these days," Matier said, in reference to the much larger and billionaire-funded SpaceX that is sending rockets into space about that often.
Matier said they came up with the launch “cadence”, or number of annual launches, after numerous discussions with the community to assess the demand and to make sure they had just enough launches to support it. The money will flow in, he said, as constellation launches with several satellites at a time "helps us from our return on investment perspective as well."
With such an approach, Matier said, they do expect they'll have a stand in a market already supplying small international launch companies such as Firefly and Astra. Nova Scotia's advantage is an ability to support both polar and equatorial launches, as it is on the coast and far away from urban populations, unlike spots like Kennedy that are limited to equatorial orbits.
As for the larger launchers of SpaceX and Blue Origin, Matier does not regard them as competition MLS wants to undercut. "We are in that medium class range: five tons to low Earth orbit … that's the market that we're targeting with this facility and that's the goal in that two to three-year timeframe."