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N.S. spaceport project still on track for spring construction start as province seeks more info

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August 29, 2018 by The Canadian Press

HALIFAX—The head of a firm hoping to open Canada’s only commercial spaceport near the small community of Canso, N.S says they remain on schedule for a slated first satellite launch in 2021, despite environmental concerns raised by the government.

Documents released by the province detail numerous questions about the proposal commissioned by the Canso Spaceport Facility, a proposed 20-hectare site aimed at attracting firms that want to put satellites into orbit.

The project’s backer, Maritime Launch Services, was recently informed by Nova Scotia Environment Minister Margaret Miller that it must address a number of concerns before it can proceed with the project.

She said the environmental assessment, submitted in July, didn’t contain sufficient information for her to make a decision on whether to approve the project.

Maritime Launch Services — a Halifax-based company which is a joint venture of three American based firms — has a year to submit a report.

Stephen Matier, the company’s president and CEO, said he’s confident the firm will finish the study in response to the concerns raised, and it is “optimistic” it can address the issues raised.

While the decision put a damper on their plans for a groundbreaking later this year, Matier said the company still plans on beginning construction in the spring.

“We will do it as quickly as we can, and as correctly as we can, we don’t want to see this thing drag out,” he said. “We certainly want to see this project through to success, we’re certainly committed to making it work.”

In the documents provided Aug. 29, Neil Morehouse, a manager in the province’s Environment Department, says there is little in the proposal addressing how an explosion, crash or fuel leak would affect the nearby Canso Coastal Barrens Wilderness Area.

Morehouse says a spill would “destroy the impacted ecosystems with no chance of recovery within the next several hundred years.”

He says soils in that area are very thin and because of the wet, cold climate they have taken centuries to form.

According to the Maritime Launch Services proposal, the rockets would use nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimenthyl hydrazine, or UDH, for the second portion of their launch into the atmosphere.

A letter from the Defence Department says the military “does not have sufficient knowledge” to assess the impacts of an accidental discharge of the UDH on the land or surface water, but “suggests an assessment should be completed.”

Other government officials comment that there isn’t enough information in the proposal to assess potential dangers.

Chuck McKenna, a manager with the resource management unit of the provincial Environment Department, says detailed plans on how dangerous goods will be stored and handled weren’t provided.

He says this should include details on the potential effects of a chemical accident, prevention methods and emergency response procedures.

Johnny McPherson, an expert on air quality in the provincial Environment Department, says in his submission that the first stage propellants of a rocket can create “black carbon (soot)” that is “harmful if inhaled because of small particle size and damaging effects.”

The government comments were made in response to the environmental assessment of the project prepared by a consultant.

With files from Alex Cooke of The Canadian Press