Nova Scotia grants 18-month extension for work to begin on commercial spaceport

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HALIFAX — The company planing to build Canada's first spaceport in northeastern Nova Scotia has been granted an 18-month extension to begin construction.

Nova Scotia's Environment Department confirmed Wednesday it had granted the extension request by Maritime Launch Services on Monday.

"Maritime Launch Services is expected to satisfy all conditions of the environmental assessment approval that are required to be completed in advance of project commencement by Dec. 3, 2022, at the latest," the department said in an email.

Nova Scotia's government originally set a deadline of this June when it granted conditional environmental approval for the project in 2019.

The proposed site is near Canso, on the northeastern tip of mainland Nova Scotia. Maritime Launch Services chose the location because of its remoteness and access to a desired due south trajectory to put satellites into orbit.

Once the site is built, the company plans to launch satellites using Ukrainian-built 4M Cyclone rockets with payloads of up to 5,000 kilograms for low Earth orbit, and up to 3,350 kilograms for higher orbits.

Company CEO Steve Matier blames the COVID-19 pandemic for delaying progress last year and says work continues to secure financing and to survey the proposed launch site.

"We are working with Lands and Forestry (Department) on the land lease process," Matier said in an interview. "We have a team that has actually been in the field the last couple of weeks. The team has been out there doing the final staking for the proposed lease."

Matier would not divulge details but said there would be "news coming soon" on financing for the project.

Other work, however, needs to be completed, including obtaining liability insurance, which the province confirmed is still being negotiated.

As well, the company has to meet a long list of conditions under the environmental approval, including developing a plan for worst case scenarios. The rockets are fuelled by highly toxic hydrazine, which is among the concerns listed by the province.

It also has to have a plan for the storage, handling and containment of dangerous goods; for the management of rocket wastes; and for environmental protection. It must also come up with a public complaints system and a detailed rehabilitation plan for the site after the launch era ends.

Matier said all of that work is ongoing and that his company remains committed to the Canso project because of what he calls the "burgeoning satellite industry."

"This is an industry that is heading toward one trillion dollars within the next 20 years," he said. "We've gotten nothing but support from this community in wanting us to move this forward."

Matier said he estimates construction will begin on the spaceport complex before the Dec, 3, 2022 deadline.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press