Spaceport in Canso gets green light for construction

A rendering shows the outside of the launch control centre for the proposed Canso, N.S., spaceport.  (Maritime Launch Services - image credit)
A rendering shows the outside of the launch control centre for the proposed Canso, N.S., spaceport. (Maritime Launch Services - image credit)

Construction on Canada's first spaceport for rocket launches can now go ahead in Canso, N.S., the provincial government announced this week.

Spaceport Nova Scotia will be used to launch satellites into the Earth's orbit for imaging, communications and experiments, says the company behind the project, Nova Scotia-based Maritime Launch Services.

Once complete, the spaceport will include a launch pad and control centre near the small town traditionally reliant on commercial fishing.

CEO Stephen Matier said the spaceport will allow Canada to capture a share of an increasingly important aerospace industry.

"Having this launch site come online is significant in a global market sense, but it's also really significant for Canada at large simply because they've been building satellites [here, but] always launching them somewhere else," Matier said.

Maritime Launch Services
Maritime Launch Services

A 2020 report from the Canadian Space Agency's economic analysis team says the space sector contributed $2.5 billion to Canada's GDP and supported a total of 22,879 jobs in 2019.

The project can go ahead because it has met the necessary environmental assessment terms and conditions, said Department of Environment and Climate Change spokesperson Tracy Barron in an emailed statement.

"As the regulator, the department will continue to hold the company to our environmental standards to ensure the environment remains protected," she said.

'Tragic day' 

The spaceport has been the target of opposition over the last few years from experts fearing contamination from the toxic fuels used by rockets and community members who oppose it on environmental grounds.

Marie Lumsden, who is with the group Action Against Canso Spaceport, said it was a "tragic day" when the approval was granted.

"Right now we are living in fear, and we've lived in fear for the last three years because no level of government, neither municipal, provincial or federal is protecting us in any way or is taking care of our rights or the rights of the environment."

Lumsden, whose house is about three kilometres from the launch pad, said residents have a wide variety of concerns about the project, including launch accidents, chemical spills, fires and the impact on fisheries, migratory birds and the environment.

Maritime Launch Services
Maritime Launch Services

She believes the project should have been subjected to a federal rather than provincial environmental assessment, which she views as less stringent.

Lumsden said the spaceport has been a divisive issue in the community, affecting relationships between people who support the project and those who don't.

"Our peace is being destroyed by this … and it's destroying our community because people aren't talking to one another, they're angry with one another.…  Some of them I can't even look at them, I'm so upset."

Environmental assessment approved in 2019

In an emailed statement, Maritime Launch spokesperson Sarah McLean said the company has assembled a team of industry experts in environmental monitoring and stewardship, spaceport operations, and construction management to address environmental concerns.

Maritime Launch received approval for its environmental assessment in June 2019, which outlined conditions for construction and operation of the facility. It includes requirements for ventilation, alarms, temperature and spill monitoring systems and storage specifications for all products, including nitrogen and liquid oxygen.

"Our safety analysis was reviewed and accepted by Transport Canada's safety division," because space launches from Canada are regulated through the federal agency, McLean wrote.

Earlier this month, the company said it inked a Crown land lease with the province to develop and operate the facility. The lease has a 20-year term with an option to renew for another 20 years. It covers just over 135 hectares of Crown land near Canso, Little Dover, N.S., and Hazel Hill, N.S.

Brett Ruskin/CBC
Brett Ruskin/CBC

Barry Carroll, the chief administrative officer of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, said the community is "fully supportive" of the upcoming spaceport.

"We expect it is going to bring huge benefits to the municipality and province over the long term," he said, including jobs, and attracting more people and businesses to the area.

There are discussions of a dedicated local fire department that would service the spaceport and surrounding rural areas, he added.

Carroll also expects it will draw tourists and could be used to educate the community about the aerospace industry. Plans are in place for tours of some parts of the facility, as well as a launch-viewing area.

Matier said the company will begin actual construction next year with a goal of launching its first commercial payload by the end of 2024. Afterward, they plan to slowly ramp up to an average of eight launches a year.