Thursday, May 23, 2024

Maritime Launch changes course to ‘airport model’

Company pivots away from launching its own rockets from Canso

  • May 1 2024
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

CANSO — Due to supply problems caused by the the war in Ukraine, Maritime Launch Services (MLS) says it is pivoting away from sending its own rockets into space and becoming “more of an airport model” for others, says founder and CEO Steve Matier.

In an interview with The Journal last week, Matier – who started the spaceport project in 2016 to launch satellites with Cyclone-4M rockets it intended to buy from a Ukrainian manufacturer – said geopolitical realities in Eastern Europe now makes that approach unworkable.

“We can’t get the rockets out of Ukraine,” he said. “So, we’ve pivoted away from a customer-supplier relationship with [them] ... There’s such huge demand for satellites going into orbit that there’s all these [other] rockets in development that don’t have a home. The bottleneck is really the spaceport, and that’s what we’re addressing.”

Matier said the easiest way to understand the shift is by imagining an airport.

“Think of Stanfield International, for example, it leases space to Air Canada and WestJet or United [Airlines]. They pay an annual cost for that area and gate access. Stanfield provides fuel, hospitality, lights, power, personnel and all those kinds of things.”

He added: “Now, translate that to a spaceport. Launch vehicle developers build their own rockets and pay for them. They work with their own satellite clients to fill up their rockets. We allow them to launch by leasing to them a subset of our facilities to which we provide services, such as control center, payload processing, facility gases, air-space coordination [and] Nav Canada Transport.”

Matier insisted the new approach has certain built-in advantages, irrespective of the conflict in Eastern Europe, including non-existent rocket manufacturing and lower site construction costs. Moreover, he said, “People love the location.”

According to MLS’s management discussion and analysis (MD&A) for the nine months ending September 30, 2023 – a key disclosure tool that coincides with the company’s audited financial statements for that year – the site is located “in a high technology and university-rich province that serves as the base for the Canadian naval fleet. It is adjacent to a windfarm for electricity, is less than one kilometer from a deep seaport and 50 km from a major super port as well aa a transnational rail line and highway network.”

As for the international market, it said, “Filings in 2021 to the United States Federal Communications Commission by numerous satellite clients revealed an additional 37,000 satellites being planned in various constellations and with many inclinations that can be served at [the Canso] location. In Euroconsult’s 2022 report, it noted at least 24,500 satellites need to be launched over the next decade, which would require hundreds of launches per year.”

According to Matier, the pivot will not disrupt the company’s plans to launch a sub-orbital flight this summer or derail negotiations with a European launch company to host a fully orbital mission in 2025.

“The suborbital launch we’re planning for this summer is about maturing our team and maturing our relationship with Transport Canada and Nav Canada, and we’re moving that forward. In 2025, the [European] client will bring their small launcher to our site.”

As for the possibility of re-starting its proprietary launch systems using the Ukrainian-built Cyclones, Matier is taking a wait-and-see approach. “In a couple of years, we’ll look at expanding to include additional launchers potentially. And that’s when we think the Ukrainian rocket will be back in the story.”

MLS has completed a demonstration launch pad at its 335-acre site held on a 40-year land lease from the provincial government, which has also provided environmental assessment approval (2019).

The company’s MD&A also state that its net and comprehensive losses for the year ended Dec. 31, 2022, were $7,450,698 ($0.02 per share), compared with $4,317,406 ($0.06 per share) for the year ended Dec. 31, 2021, and $563,790 ($0.01 per share) for the year ended Dec. 31, 2020.