Rocket launch plans in “ramp up” mode as Ukrainian engineers visit

By Helen Murphy    

DARTMOUTH – A “major ramp up” of plans to build a rocket launch site in the Canso/Hazel Hill/Little Dover area is now underway, Maritime Launch Services President Steve Matier said at a meeting to start the facility design process on Monday in Dartmouth. A team of rocket engineers from Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye State Design Office joined representatives of Lindsay Construction and other project consultants for two days of design meetings.

It’s a busy week for the project proponents and their Ukrainian partners, with a site visit, community liaison committee meeting, open house in Little Dover, and meetings with municipal officials and fishermen planned. Matier will also meet with students at Fanning Education Centre and Academy to talk about the project.

MLS plans to submit its environmental approval application in early January. The company is eager to get the facility design process going, as they hope to break ground in May, 2018. Following environmental approval they will have to finalize a Crown Land use agreement with the Dept. of Natural Resources.

Matier said now is the time to get the rocket engineers together with facility engineers and construction leads working on the project.

“We have a facility to build and a rocket to build,” he said. “And as you can imagine the two sides have to talk to each other.”

The company hopes to begin operations in 2020. With 18 months of construction and six months of commissioning, Matier said it’s easy to see why design has to get underway now.

Matier also spent some time addressing the question of why they are building a rocket launch here, a question he says is often raised when they are in the Canso area.

“There is a huge market out there for satellites to be put into space and a real lack of capacity to do that,” said Matier. Near-earth imaging and communications services are among the uses of more satellites in space, he said.

“It’s that sort of thing that has really taken off,” he said. “So we’ve got a huge interest of clients that are backlogged waiting to put their products into space.”

Municipality of the District of Guysborough Warden Vernon Pitts spoke about the history of the Commercial Cable Building near Canso, which used the latest technology of its day. Now a new kind of cutting-edge technology will be used for this project, he said. Pitts also stressed the importance of the type of community consultation that MLS has undertaken in planning the rocket launch facility.

“Let’s start launching rockets,” he said in addressing Matier from the podium.

The cost of building the facility and the technology needed for the interface with the rocket is estimated at $200 million.

The proponents hope to launch about six to 12 rockets a year. It will take about 29 days for the Ukrainian manufacturer to build a customized rocket and deliver it to the launch site.

In terms of jobs, Matier said construction will probably require about 100 full-time people over 18 months. In the operational phase, 40 to 50 full-time employees will be working at the site. This includes tradespeople, such as pipefitters and electricians, as well as a few rocket scientists and other specialists.

The Ukrainian rocket manufacturer will need 20 to 40 people on site for rocket assembly before each launch. “They are handling the touch labour of their rocket,” Matier said.

“And then there is the whole tourism side of things.”

Matier described the rocket launch facility as an “anchor tenant”, saying the real economic development potential is in what develops around it, such as having clients assemble their payloads close to the launch site.

“We’re really only going to be a small part of what can unfold from this.”