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Maritimes Launch Services aims to help Canada win satellite space race


The company is building commercial launch site in Nova Scotia

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Gone are the days when space was solely the domain of national governments and militaries. Now, any company with enough funding can shoot a satellite up into space.

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Take Halifax-based Maritime Launch Services Inc. (MLS). It’s building a $200-million commercial satellite launch site called Spaceport Nova Scotia that will allow clients to place their satellites into low-Earth orbit.

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“We’re just extremely excited to be a part of this endeavour,” said chief executive Stephen Matier.

The spaceport will open in phases: first for small launches in late 2023, then medium launches in 2024.

The commercial spaceport, the first of its kind in Canada, reflects the increasing investment of the private sector in space technology. Companies use satellites for a variety of reasons: tracking emissions, surveying economic activity, monitoring shipping and mapping landscapes, among others.

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But critics say space is becoming crowded with satellites and space junk, which could collide and create clouds of debris. Space is still a free-for-all, with regulations struggling to keep pace with the uptick in private involvement.

Even so, several Canadian astronauts believe the trend toward privatization should be celebrated rather than condemned.

“We need to regulate it, we’ve got to sort it all out… But it’s opening up the universe to us,” astronaut Chris Hadfield said.

Dave Williams, another astronaut, agreed, saying that private involvement in space was an exciting opportunity for Canadians, and that Canada should work to become even more involved in the space race than it is currently.

Matier said MLS’s spaceport addresses a gap in the commercial satellite market.

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Few companies have their own launch sites, and need to rely on government ranges that offer “little flexibility of prioritization,” the company said in a pitch deck for investors. “We intend to deliver the solution our customers need — safe, reliable, affordable and strategically located space launch on their schedule.”

Canada is optimally positioned for satellite launches, Matier said.

“The very unique piece about it is the location in Nova Scotia can launch these satellites into orbit in what is called a ‘polar orbit’ due south, or to an inclination all the way off the coast of Africa, if you will, and even more,” he said, adding that a site with such range of capabilities “can’t really be matched in North America.”

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The launches are not cheap. Customers can either launch satellites 600 to 800 kilometres into space, with a payload of 3,350 kilograms, or launch one 600 km with a payload of 5,000 kg. Either way, it costs US$45 million. Once fully operational, MLS plans to launch eight rockets annually.

“We, as a launch service provider, work with the satellite client and determine where they want to go, when they want to go and we agree on a price per kilogram. Those are kind of the three variables that are most important to a satellite manufacturer,” Matier said. “You work with them to identify what their needs are, then you design a launch that basically takes their payload and puts it where they want it in space.”

The company plans to use rockets developed by Yuzhnoye State Design Office, a design company, and state-owned aerospace manufacturer PA Pivdenmash (formerly PA Yuzhmash), both of which are based in Dnipro, Ukraine.

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But Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine could complicate MLS’ space ambitions. In July, Russian missiles hit the PA Pivdenmash plant in Dnipro, killing three. MLS still plans to maintain its partnership despite the unrest in the region.

“Yes, absolutely. The technology developed by our partners in Ukraine is recognized globally and across the industry as best in class,” a spokesperson said.

“During this difficult time, our focus and thoughts are with our colleagues, and indeed all of Ukraine. Russia’s unrelenting and unprovoked attacks continue to take the lives of innocent Ukrainians. Maritime Launch Services condemns, in the strongest possible terms, these attacks on the peace and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens.”

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