Science

Space launches from Canada will be allowed soon, transport minister says

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Friday that the federal government will develop the regulatory requirements, safety standards and licensing conditions necessary to authorize commercial satellite space launches from Canada within the next three years.

Rules coming within 3 years, but interim launches can be approved before that

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques, left, holds a model of the Canadarm2 as federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra watches.
Astronaut David Saint-Jacques, left, demonstrates to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra how the Canadarm2 robotic arm for the International Space Station works. On Friday, Alghabra announced that the federal government will develop regulations to allow space launches from Canada. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa is hoping to capitalize on the country's vast geography and space expertise to lure in companies that want to launch commercial space flights from Canadian soil.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Friday that the federal government will develop the regulatory requirements, safety standards and licensing conditions necessary to authorize commercial satellite space launches from Canada within the next three years.

"For many years, Canadian satellites have launched from sites in other countries," he said at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Longueuil, Que., south of Montreal.

"It's time for us to start launching them right here at home."

Alghabra said the country is also ready to approve launches in the interim period on a case-by-case basis, and he invited private companies to come forward with projects.

"Today's announcement is a strong signal to invite those who are interested to come on in and take advantage of the advantages Canada has," he said, adding that he's confident a first launch will happen within the next three years.

Several advantages

Montreal-area MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau said Canada has a number of geographic advantages when it comes to satellite launch locations, including a vast, sparsely populated territory and a wide range of possibilities for high-inclination orbits.

A rendering shows a white rocket on a launch pad with trees and sky in the background.
A rendering shows the Ukraine-built Cyclone 4M rocket as it would appear at a proposed launch site in Canso, N.S. (Maritime Launch Services)

He said that while Canada has previously launched suborbital rockets — which go up into space and fall back down — it has not yet launched an orbital space flight.

Alghabra says a number of companies have expressed interest in launching from Canada, including Maritime Launch, which is planning to build the country's first spaceport in northeastern Nova Scotia.

The company's CEO, Stephen Matier, has said the company hopes to launch a first suborbital test later this year in Canso, N.S., followed by a small orbital rocket next year.

The company hopes to be able to launch its first rocket capable of carrying a load in 2025, with plans to scale up to eight to 10 launches a year soon after.

Friday's commercial space flight announcement refers to satellite launches rather than crewed passenger flights. But Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, who was at the announcement, said it's not out of the question that astronauts could one day be launched into space from Canada, once the country's capacity is built up.

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