Concern about Hazmat Incidents at Canada’s Proposed Spaceport

In a joint venture with several US firms, Halifax-based Maritime Launch Services (MLS) is building Canada’s first spaceport near Canso, Nova Scotia. At a total cost of $304 million—a figure that includes the cost of the first rocket launch and promotional expenses—the launch pad is slated to deliver commercial satellites to low Earth orbit aboard Ukrainian-built rockets on a due south trajectory, and at a cost of $60 million per launch.

Stephen Matier, left, president of Maritime Launch Services and Maksym Degtiarov, chief designer of the launch vehicle at the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau, talk with reporters at a meeting of the proposed Spaceport project team in Dartmouth, N.S. on December 11, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

The Canso Spaceport Facility will be 20 hectares in size and is aimed at attracting firms that want to put satellites into orbit for commercial purposes.  The site will include a control centre, launch area and “horizontal integration facility,” where materials will be prepared for the launch and some propellants will be stored

The company would like to launch as many as eight rockets per year starting in 2022.

There are concerns about the spaceport from government experts.  Specifically, concerns related to environmental and health & safety issues.  Recently released documents released by the province detail numerous questions about the planned Canso Spaceport Facility.  Nova Scotia’s environment ministry will not approve the project unless their concerns are addressed.

The specific concerns of the N.S. Environment Ministry is how the company will address an explosion, crash or fuel leak.  According to the recently released government document, a spill would “destroy the impacted ecosystems with no chance of recovery within the next several hundred years.”

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 Canadian 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.”

A professor at the University of British Columbia has raised concerns about an “exceedingly toxic” rocket propellant that will be used at the Canso, N.S., operation. Michael Byers, a political science professor at UBC, said there is a danger associated with UDH — which he said is known in Russia as “the Devil’s Breath.”

Professor Byers stated “If something goes wrong on launch, you know, if the rocket were to tip over and explode, or if there were some kind of spill during transportation or assembly, you’d still have a serious health and environmental concern.”

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.

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Margaret Miller said last week the environmental assessment, submitted in July, didn’t contain sufficient information for her to make a decision on whether to approve the project.

Miller has given the company one year to provide additional information and studies.

The company’s president has 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.