Maritime Launch Services Nova Scotia spaceport development ramps up

MLS representatives, Ukrainian Head of State Space Agency Volodymyr Taftai, and Canadian government officials including ISED Minister Champagne. Credit: SpaceQ.

At the high-profile Halifax International Security Forum, Maritime Launch Services announced Nanoracks will be its first customer with a launch planned in 2023. The company also showcased its preliminary design for its Launch Control Centre. Notably, the company also received both federal and provincial government endorsement including from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

In attendance were some 40 guests including;

  • Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED)
  • Nova Scotia based Minister Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
  • Minister Susan Corkum-Greek, Nova Scotia MLA and Minister of Economic Development
  • Lisa Campbell, President Canadian Space Agency (CSA)
  • Volodymyr Taftai, Head of State Space Agency of Ukraine
  • Jeffrey Manber, President of International and Space Stations, Voyager Space, and co-founder and Chairman, Nanoracks

Also present were representatives from Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash, the designers and manufactures of the Cyclone 4M rocket that will be launched from the Nova Scotia spaceport. And in the audience we noticed former Conservative Cabinet Minister Peter MacKay, a supporter, and next to him former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

A confluence of events

While we knew ahead of time who some of the dignitaries would be, the presence of ISED Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne did come as a surprise to SpaceQ, and I’m sure a welcome guest for MLS.

What’s important to note about this event is not just what was announced, which we’ll get to in a second, but also the confluence of activity that made this happen.

In fact, it was a little over four years ago that Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ukraine to explore ways to work together in space activities. Six months earlier MLS had selected Nova Scotia for its spaceport. So the MOU signing was no coincidence. Fast forward to the night before this event and Canada and the Ukraine took another step forward by signing a joint statement that included the efforts of Maritime Launch Services.

The details of that statement haven’t been released yet, but clearly the Canadian government is now onboard. Shortly after the press conference Minister Champagne tweeted “Canada’s commercial space sector is growing! Congratulations to @maritimelaunch & @Nanoracks for this collaboration that will enable us to launch satellites in space from Canadian soil. This will inspire young people to pursue STEM, while offering opportunities in Atlantic 🇨🇦!”

Another event leading up to the Maritime Launch Services announcement that likely influenced the Canadian government was a signal sent by the Ukrainian government that it was also backing the project financially. The government is close to passing a bill that will fund a five year plan for the State Space Agency of Ukraine. That plan includes funding the manufacturing of the new first stage engine for the Cyclone 4M launch vehicle developed by Yuzhnoy and Yuzhmash. So with the government supporting them, they will be able to complete manufacturing of the first Cyclone 4M in time for a 2023 launch.

As well, MLS recently announced they would be going public in Canada on a yet to be announced exchange in reverse takeover (RTO) of Jaguar Financial Corporation. SpaceQ had been told the announcement of the exchange would take place by this event, however we were later told they weren’t quite ready. The company is meeting with potential new investors this week who are interested in investing pre-RTO. The company still needs to raise close to $190 million.

Now it should be noted that the federal government has not at this point provided any funding to MLS. That however could change as the project moves forward. There’s little doubt that MLS would like the government to be a financial partner of the project in some way.

To underscore what the event meant for MLS, here is an excerpt of the remarks made by Minister Champagne. “I used to be Foreign Affairs minister so I spent a bit of time in your country and the fact that you have chosen Canada as the partner for space, to me is a great testament of the friendship between our two people. And I want to welcome you to Canada on behalf of the government and all of the Ukrainian delegation which is with you today because the fact is that a lot of people have contributed to what we’re going to be doing. I read about the rocket we’re going to be using, it’s fascinating for someone like me, and I say thank you for choosing Canada. I think we’ll do great things together.”

What was announced

Jeff Manber (left) of Nanoracks/Voyager Space shakes the hand of Maritime Launch Service CEO Steve Matier after announcing their deal. Credit: SpaceQ.
Jeff Manber (left) of Nanoracks/Voyager Space shakes the hand of Maritime Launch Service CEO Steve Matier after announcing their deal. Credit: SpaceQ.

Aside from the government endorsements, the other important news for MLS was that Nanoracks will be their first customer and will provide payload services. Those services will include deploying small satellites and hosting “spacecraft technology demonstrations.” The value of the Nanoracks contract is US$45 million.

During his remarks, Jeffrey Manber of Nanoracks briefly spoke of the first tech demonstration the company plans to do and it is noteworthy. Once the MLS Cyclone 4M has finished deploying its payloads, Nanoracks will demonstrate its Mission Extension Kit and extend the life of the second stage.

“But we’re also going to be deploying on the Cyclone 4M, a tech demo payload, which will allow, it’s called the Mission Extension Kit, and it will allow the second stage, the upper stage of the Zenit (Cyclone 4M) rocket to stay in orbit longer, so it doesn’t become a piece of space junk and it can be reused in efficient manner. So not only are we going to be contributing in terms of economic value of business, not only do we hope to be contributing to education, but we’re also going to be taking the first steps together in trying to eliminate some of the problems of space debris.”

The Mission Extension Kit is an important technology Nanoracks is developing for its Outpost program. Nanoracks said the Outposts will use repurposed upper stages and turn what was once space junk into viable automated commercial platforms in orbit.

Manber also stated in a press release that “The team at Nanoracks is excited to partner with Maritime Launch to accelerate the growing space ecosystem in Canada. Spaceport Nova Scotia represents a globally competitive location for launch, while the Cyclone-4M is a descendant of perhaps the most reliable launch vehicle ever built. Our work with CSA has shown us the breadth of expertise and interest across the country. This mission with Maritime Launch will provide an opportunity for Canadian companies and universities to access orbit onboard a domestic launch vehicle, developing key technologies while showing the value of international partnerships.”

MLS CEO Steve Matier said “For Canada’s first launch to space, we could not have selected a better partner. Nanoracks is a champion for the Canadian space sector and has an ongoing relationship with the Canadian Space Agency to deploy Canadian satellites. We are thrilled that the Government of Canada, Province of Nova Scotia, and the Municipality of the District of Guysborough are here with us to mark this occasion, and we are grateful for their continued commitment to support the commercial aerospace sector.”

It was also pointed out that Nanoracks provides “satellite deployment services from the ISS for the Canadian Space Agency’s Canadian CubeSat Project.” These CubeSats are slated to launch starting in 2022.

Also on the first launch will be small satellites from Halifax based Galaxia Mission Systems which signed a Letter of Intent with MLS. The company is hoping to build a constellation of 32 small satellites with a variety of sensors including customer hosted applications. Arad Gharagozli told SpaceQ the satellites will include a hyperspectral sensor.

MLS also unveiled preliminary design plans for its Launch Control Centre (LCC).

Artist illustration of the Maritime Launch Services launch control centre
Artist illustration of the Maritime Launch Services launch control centre. Credit: Maritime Launch Services.

The LCC was designed by Architecture 49, a local company, and will include a visitor and educational centre. MLS said that “interpretive planners and exhibit designers, AldrichPears Associates, will be developing the visitor centre experience in collaboration with the local communities and the architectural team.”

If you like this story, read this follow-up post: A first look at the Maritime Launch Services launch control centre and area for Spaceport Nova Scotia

Updated Nov. 24, 2021: To include the value of the Nanoracks contract.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 28 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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