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'No contamination' in controversial October rocket launch, Europe says

The European Space Agency says a rocket stage that launched one of its satellites into orbit last month, and which subsequently splashed down in Arctic waters, didn’t contaminate the area.

'Until this day we have not been provided with any evidence of resulting toxic pollution'

In this 1997 file photo, soldiers prepare to destroy a ballistic SS-19 missile in the yard of the largest former Soviet military rocket base in Vakulenchuk, Ukraine. (Associated Press)

The European Space Agency says a rocket stage that launched one of its satellites into orbit last month, and which subsequently splashed down in Arctic waters, didn't contaminate the area.

In October, the ESA launched its Sentinel-5P satellite — meant to track air pollution and climate change — using a converted SS-19 Cold War-era intercontinental ballistic missile.

The rocket's fuel is hydrazine-based, and its second stage was set to be disposed in the North Water Polynya — an open body of water between Nunavut and Greenland, rich in Arctic wildlife.

Ahead of the launch, there were concerns among Inuit and the Nunavut government over a potential risk of the area being contaminated if the fuel didn't burn before landing.

The ESA refuted those concerns, noting that hydrazine boils at 113.5 C, and the rocket would re-enter the atmosphere at temperatures much hotter than that.

Following the launch, the ESA says everything went according to plan.

"Until this day we have not been provided with any evidence of resulting toxic pollution. This is in line and consistent with what can be expected when considering the properties of hydrazine, the flight profile and the science of physics and chemistry," a spokesperson for the ESA wrote CBC News in an email.

"We know that the defined mission parameters were met with a very high accuracy. The 2nd stage was hence dropped within the legally allowed area without toxic contamination."

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