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Canada Is Getting Its First Spaceport

Maritime Launch Services Ltd brings a global spaceflight network to a small Canadian town.

Canada has a robust space program, emblematized by free-floating astronaut guitarists and enormous robotic arms. Yet the nation has no spaceports within its own borders, instead relying on other countries to give its missions the boost they need to travel to space.

The age of Canadian rocket launches is upon us at last. On Tuesday, Maritime Launch Services Ltd (MLS), an American-run company founded in 2016, announced plans to build a commercial spaceport in the Canso-Hazel Hill area of Nova Scotia.

Construction is on track to begin in 2018, after the completion of an environmental and regulatory review of the site, with the first rockets projected to blast off two years later. "We would hope that we would be in a position to do our first launch by the end of 2020," MLS CEO John Isella told me over the phone.

"This is a fully commercial endeavor based on no government funding"

Most startups would be hard-pressed to establish an operational spaceport in such a short timeframe with an estimated investment of $226 million, which is extremely low for spaceflight. But the MLS team has an interesting angle to help them expedite the process while staying on budget.

In addition to his role as MLS CEO, Isella serves the North American business development representative for Yuzhnoye, a state-owned Ukrainian satellite and rocketry design office. Yuzhnoye, along with its manufacturing partner Yuzhmash, will supply MLS with its new line of Cyclone 4M medium-class rockets, which saves the company the upfront cost of designing and constructing a unique rocket family.

"This is a fully commercial endeavor based on no government funding," said Isella. "The reason we can do this for a modest $226 million is because we are basing it on so much capability, and so many existing designs, from Ukraine. We don't have to design things from scratch."  

In other words, American aerospace entrepreneurs will be using Ukrainian rockets to launch satellites from around the world from a spaceport in eastern Canada. This beautifully encapsulates the increasingly interlinked network of rocket-makers, launch providers, and emerging commercial satellite markets that underpins the modern space sector.  

This larger global narrative should not, however, overshadow the local story of Nova Scotia's future spaceport. The Canso-Hazel Hill area lies in the district of Guysborough, which has traditionally relied on the fisheries and forestry industries for economic opportunities. But from 2011 to 2016, the already sparsely populated district lost 6.5 percent of its population and steady work became more scarce.

Read More: Canada Is Looking For Some New (Female) Astronauts

For this reason, the community welcomed MLS and its plans to establish facilities in the region. The spaceport will be constructed by Canadian companies and will provide several dozen long-term jobs to Nova Scotians, not to mention an exciting new avenue for tourism. Given how many people gather to watch rocket launches along the US Space Coast, Guysborough could become a hotspot for space enthusiasts.

In return, Nova Scotia provides MLS with a perfect staging ground to develop launch capabilities for an emerging market of satellite companies specializing in north-south polar orbits. "That's why Nova Scotia is attractive," Isella said, "because of the straight shot south over the Atlantic Ocean, where you don't encounter land until you get to South America."

"Canada's a wonderful place to do business," he added. "It's very safe and accommodating. It really has a growing space industry, even though there's no launch capability—yet."

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