Nova Scotia is familiar with launching ships, but never quite like this.

The province could soon be the site of a $148-million rocket spaceport that will be used to launch commercial satellites into space as early as 2020. On Tuesday, Maritime Launch Services confirmed plans to build the facility near Canso and begin construction within one year. 

The Halifax-based company, which is a joint venture of three U.S.-based firms, hopes to launch eight rockets annually by 2022. The facility would launch rockets with 3,350-kg payloads on a due south trajectory at a cost of $60 million.

The site would include a launch pad and a processing building, as well as a control centre positioned about three kilometres away.

The total cost to establish the spaceport, launch the first rocket and promote the facility will be $304 million, said John Isella, CEO of Maritime Launch Services.

The selection process

It would be the only commercial spaceport in Canada.

The area near Canso and Hazel Hill was selected from 14 different sites across North America for the Ukrainian Cyclone 4M medium-class rocket.

Maritime Launch Services president Steve Matier said the company evaluated "access to polar/sun synchronous orbit, very low population density, proximity to multi-modal transportation, and interest from the community, province and government."

The company doesn't plan to ask the government for money, Matier said. The Ukrainian provider of the rocket, Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash, has been in operation for 62 years and has built and launched more than 400 spacecraft.

"We believe there is a solid market," Matier said.

Why Nova Scotia?

But why was this remote Nova Scotia community selected? Residents there asked the same question at an open house the company hosted in February.

"They described Canso as not at the end of the earth, but you could see it from there," Matier said.

GFX WEB MAP Canso, Nova Scotia

The Canso-Hazel Hill area is in the eastern part of mainland Nova Scotia. (CBC NEWS)

"That's what you are really looking for. You are looking for a place that has a good buffer from people and an access to a trajectory so that you have a client base that is interested in putting satellites into orbit."

Matier told CBC News "it's not a zero risk thing" when launching a rocket.

"We've got probably the most reliable rocket in operation these days. With Yuzhnoye's background in developing rockets and Yuzhmash with manufacturing them — we feel like we've got the risks mitigated."

'Great tourist draw'

The company said it has received enthusiastic support from the community and multiple levels of government. 

"It's going to be a great tourist draw," said Vernon Pitts, warden of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough.

Guysborough Warden Vernon Pitts

Guysborough Warden Vernon Pitts says the project will attract visitors and residents to the community. (CBC)

"Where's the closest destination you can go to actually watch rockets taking off? I think this is just fantastic as long as they keep the people informed."

Matier agrees.

"You'll be able to see [a rocket launch] pretty far down the Eastern Shore," he said. 

What this means for jobs

Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines, who is also MLA for the area where the spaceport would be located, said he's hopeful the project "will provide good paying jobs for people in these rural areas and to halt the out-migration that has victimized the province for some decades."

Hines said the company's application for the lease of Crown land is routine and should take "months" to process. 

Employment in the area has historically been tied to the fishery and forestry sector. A downturn in the fishery in recent years affected many people in the community.

Matier said the project's construction phase will be "quite significant." 

Once completed, it will require 30 to 50 people working around the clock including scientists, engineers, technicians, as well as "wrench turners", security personnel and fire services.

The number of people working on site will jump to about 150 in the weeks leading up to a launch. 

N.S. considered for space hub before

Nova Scotia has been considered previously as a site for rocket launches. 

In 2006, a business partnership called PlanetSpace wanted to set up a launch pad for NASA in Cape Breton.

In 2010, the Canadian Space Agency was also looking at Cape Breton as a possible site to blast small satellites into orbit.

There was even a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, started by a Halifax-based company called Open Space Orbital Incorporated.

GFX WEB MAP space ports

This map shows space launchpads around the globe expected to send rockets into orbit in 2017. (CBC NEWS)

Maritime Launch Services Ltd. is managed by a group of American aerospace experts.

The CEO and president each have decades of experience in the space industry, including time spent working at NASA.

Funding for the project initially came from United Paradyne Corporation, a California-based company that specializes in rocket fuel. 

No launching during lobster season

The company is working on getting regulatory approval.

Matier said that would involve environmental and land use approvals as well as clearance from NAV Canada and Transport Canada because the site would be near the main trans-Atlantic air corridor used by thousands of commercial airlines.

He said the company needs to consider fishermen because any launch would need a large amount of open water south of the pad location.

"We certainly can't be [launching] in the middle of lobster season," said Matier.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this article said Maritime Launch Services is U.S.-based. It is a Halifax-based company that is a joint venture of three U.S.-based firms.
    Mar 14, 2017 5:21 PM AT

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said the cost of the launchpad would be $110 million, however that number was in USD. The estimated total cost in Canadian dollars of the launch complex in Nova Scotia is $148 million CDN.
    Mar 15, 2017 8:54 AM AT
With files from Maritime Noon, Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press