The principals in the company are John Isella, CEO; Stephen Matier, President, Chief Operating Officer and V.P. of Spaceport Development; Joe Hasay, CEO of United Paradyne; and Dave Walsh, Chief Technical Officer.
SpaceQ spoke with John Isella while he was in Canada on the companies “third major trip” here.
Isella has over 35 years experience in the industry as an engineer and in business development and management, including living and working in the Ukraine and working on projects like Iridium Next and Orbital ATK’s Antares. He still does business development with the Yuzhnoye Design Office, a key supplier to the new venture.
Stephen Matier is a former engineering manager at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility and has been providing engineering consultant services since 2007. His experience includes “commercial spaceport development, rocket propulsion system and facility operation” according to his LinkedIn profile.
Joe Hasay is CEO of United Paradyne. If you’ve never heard of United Paradyne it’s ok, because unless you own a rocket that needs unconventional fuels, that being rocket fuels and cryogenics, you haven’t needed their services. United Paradyne is based just outside of Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Maria, California and they have another facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Hasay’s company is providing the primary funding for MLS at this point.
Dave Walsh has 22 years experience at United Paradyne as Vice President and Chief Technical Officer. He’s their rocket fuel go to guy.
Location, Location, Location
Isella and company are on a whirlwind tour of Canada having already had about 26 meetings with local government representatives in Nova Scotia, federal government officials in Ottawa and even holding a town hall meeting in Canso-Hazel Hill, which is the location they currently favour.
Canada is not the market they’re after. A good thing too, as the government doesn’t build many satellites so no commercial entity could survive off of them, and the few commercial companies who need an occasional launch, book through foreign suppliers.
This is all about location and what Nova Scotia brings to the table.
Nova Scotia is perfectly suited to launch rockets as it has thousands of kilometres of ocean to the east and MLS won’t have to launch over much land as this can pose a safety risk to communities. If anything goes wrong, the rocket would fall into the ocean. And even if anything doesn’t go wrong, the rockets first stage will come back down to earth after it has completed its engine burn, and with this location, it will fall into the ocean.
Aside from the safety factor, Nova Scotia also offers a great location to launch payloads to Sun-synchronous and Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
The Canso-Hazel Hill site they are interested in is on crown land. This means they would have to lease the site from the government. According to Isella, they’ve had positive discussions with the government on this issue and would apply for a 20 year land lease.
Originally a location in the continental U.S was considered, but with a protectionist new President in power, it seemed unlikely that a Ukrainian rocket would get a favorable reception, even if the company owners are American.
MLS is after the medium class launch market. It plans on offering launch services to Low Earth Orbit, below 600 km in altitude, that will allow a payload up to 5000 kg for US$45 million. They also plan on offering launch to Sun-synchronous orbit, a much desired service at this time for smaller satellites, with a payload up to 3350 kg for US$45 million. A payload going to Sun-synchronous orbit will need to be about 600-800 km in altitude, hence the lower mass available for the payload.
Yuzhnoye Design Office along with Yuzhmash of the Ukraine will be supplying MLS with a new variant of the Cyclone rocket, the 4M, and according to Isella “the Cyclone 4 upper stage and fairing remain unchanged and the first stage is now derived from the Zenit family of vehicles using an existing Lox-RP engine that is produced in Ukraine. So a 2 stage vehicle, Lox-RP first stage.” The Cyclone family of rockets is a proven launcher having successfully launched 221 times.
This medium class launcher might become more popular going forward. U.S. launch providers like SpaceX and United Launch Alliance have pretty much ignored this class of launcher. But with small satellites becoming popular and with companies like Planet Labs wanting to refresh whole segments of their constellation every 2-3 years and with ride-sharing becoming ever more popular, MLS could see an increasing demand for their services.
One of the comments Isella made during our conversation was that they were taking a very conservative approach to this venture. If after doing their due diligence the plan looks like it could succeed, and their investors agree, they’ll proceed, otherwise they’ll just walk away from the Nova Scotia option and look elsewhere.
In the medium class launch market they like to compare their offering to the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) offered by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), though Isella stresses that their price point will be more competitive when you consider the waiver process U.S. customers need to acquire when buying launch services from ISRO. Isella also mentioned that it’s a lot closer and easier for U.S. customers to travel to Nova Scotia.
Other current competitors include the Russian Angara 1.2 and Orbital ATK’s Antares.
Of course MLS will also have to compete with the emerging small satellite launchers coming online such as Rocket Labs of New Zealand and Vector Space of the U.S. While these companies can only launch a fraction of the payload mass to orbit, they might take away some customers who might want to ride-share on the MLS rocket as they can be more responsive in meeting customer needs by providing a quick launch date from the date of contract signing.
Isella told SpaceQ that they estimate it would cost US$110 million to get operations underway at the Canso-Hazel Hill location. While they have funding in place from the principals involved, they also have investors who are waiting for the results of this latest trip before making a commitment.
Isella said it would be 30-45 days, mid-March in other words, when they should have a decision whether to move forward with the project.
At this point they aren’t interested in the Canadian market and aren’t seeking government investment. While the business plan doesn’t include regional government Industrial and Technological Benefits or other government programs, they will consider them going forward.
What’s intriguing about MLS, is that if they do go get the green light from the government and go ahead with operations in Nova Scotia, there will be a potential benefit to the government and Canadian companies. All of sudden the government and companies won’t have to look offshore for a launch solution. The option to launch from Canadian soil might even spur further investment in the Canadian satellite market.
With no investment required by the Canadian government, the idea of MLS operating in Canada seems to be a win all around, especially when you consider there currently is no indigenous option.