The Globe and Mail billed the June 21 webcast as “The Space Economy: What could the commercial space age mean for Canada?”
Globe and Mail science reporter Ivan Semeniuk hosted and moderated the event, which involved four panelists representing companies or organizations with an interest in all things space-related in Canada.
But there was just one “presenting sponsor” for the hour-long webcast, and that was none other than Maritime Launch Services (MLS).
And – surprise! – there was the MLS president and CEO, Stephen Matier, sitting right there, one of four panelists on the webcast that his company sponsored.
Which means, no surprise, The Globe’s science reporter didn’t ask a single genuinely journalistic question of Matier.
Rather, Semeniuk invited the MLS CEO to speak, unchallenged and without fact-checking, at length about his company, its plans to launch 12 rockets a year from Canso, and all the amazing amounts of money and benefits this will bring to Nova Scotia, to Canada, to the entire planet.
Totally benevolent, apparently.
No mention of the proximity of the proposed spaceport to the Canso hospital (3.2 kilometres) and homes in the town, or of the risks of crashes, or of pollution from highly toxic chemicals used at a rocket launch site, or the propellants used to send rockets into orbit, on which the Halifax Examiner has reported extensively.
Related: Opposition to Canso spaceport grows. “The government of Nova Scotia and the government of Canada are partnering with a dubious, nearly-bankrupt Ukrainian company using Cold-war technology,” says Michael Byers, an expert in space law.
Matier tossed out some huge numbers, saying the global “space economy” was worth $464 billion last year, and it is expected to grow to a trillion dollars a year. But there is a “bottleneck” in launch capacity, and Maritime Launch Services is there to “serve that market.”
Satellites, he noted, are doing “no one any good” on the ground. That is where MLS comes in, Matier claimed, wanting to do nothing less than help save the world:
What this opportunity means for Canada from an economic perspective, but also what it means for us with relationship to the world we live in. The greenhouse gas, methane monitoring, global climate change and monitoring forest fires here recently, monitoring hurricanes, getting Internet and Wi-Fi in place during weather events like that is really key for our future, and really an important part for me. It’s about, you know, taking a small idea and turning it into a real opportunity for Canada.
Matier provided no facts or figures about the status of the MLS spaceport project in Canso, the company’s current finances, or about the source and nature of the rockets it plans to use. However, he did sing the praises of the site MLS has chosen for its spaceport, making it sound as if the people of Canso had been hoping Matier would come to town and fulfill a long-held wish that their picturesque and quiet town would become a site for blasting rockets into space. Said Matier:
We did a study back in 2016 looking at a dozen different locations in North America that were looking for that place to be able to put satellites into orbit in places that people want them. And the adage, “location, location, location,” landed; it really did. Because, you know in in Nova Scotia we can do polar sun synchronous orbit inclinations to 45 degrees off the coast of Africa all the way down to South America in that large swath. And that’s where most of the satellites today are going up from.
Painting a glorious and unchallenged picture
Matier’s soliloquies were riddled with hyperbole and uninterrupted by any pesky journalistic questions, allowing him to extol all kinds of wonderful things that will surely happen once he starts launching rockets from Nova Scotia:
We are fully licensed now. We’ve got all the regulations completed. We’ve got the Government of Canada announcing their support for regulatory launch, and it is really about tapping into what that market opportunity is…And, you know, once we’re up and running, the 12 launches a year just with one vehicle, a medium-class launcher that we’re planning will bring $454 million per year. And then underneath that is that space economy impact to Canada, to Nova Scotia of $300 million per year by us doing this activity… And with that, while we’re only looking to employ 300 or so people on this thing, there are going to be several thousand people that benefit from the space economy component that Maritime Launch is bringing to Nova Scotia, and into the surrounding area here. So this waterfall effect I think is really tremendous.
And Matier is doing it all for young people:
And the other part to me that is the most important for me … is working with kids and enlivening them to be a part of looking up and seeing what they can do and what they can be a part of. We’ve got a co-op student from a high school. We’ve got a university sub-orbital launch coming next month by York University that helps us exercise all of our CONOPS [concept of operations].
“We’ve got our first orbital launch next year planned to also bring all those CONOPS to fruition for deploying satellites in orbit, and then bringing that medium-class launcher to bear after that,” Matier said.
And even if he wasn’t about to drop any updates on how construction is progressing in Canso, or where these medium-class launchers will come from, or how much financing MLS has secured, that didn’t stop Matier from dropping some big names and doing some rah-rah-Canada cheerleading (which seems a little odd give that his LinkedIn page still gives his address as Rio Rancho, New Mexico, United States).
I have to tell you, the night before last, I had the extreme pleasure and opportunity to be with former Prime minister Brian Mulroney and our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in Antigonish at an economic forum and hearing them talk about the arc of history, and what the future looks like and getting into the day-to-day squabbles means nothing. It’s the big stuff that matters. This is such an opportunity for Canada to be really a part of the new commercial space economy.… So now let’s complement the whole picture and add space launch, because that’s the bottleneck. That’s where people are having the most trouble right now is getting their satellites into orbit. We’re sending cheques to Space-X to Elon Musk at $65 million a pop, or whatever it is for a full launcher. And we can keep that in Canada. We can keep our students in Canada instead of shipping them off to the U.S. and other places to be a part of the space economy elsewhere.
Then this grand finale:
So to me, it’s this real opportunity, and this arc of history, and looking forward to look back and see where we are going as a country. It’s our time. We’ve got the location. We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the capabilities. And we do have the investment interest in place. And it’s just ours for the taking.
Questions The Globe and Mail didn’t ask
Fortunately, even if The Globe and Mail science reporter Semeniuk didn’t ask any probing questions of Matier, there was at least one person watching the webcast who was very interested in fact-checking what the MLS CEO had to say.
Jim Geddes is with Action Against the Canso Spaceport, a group of citizens who oppose the spaceport project in their community. He watched The Globe’s webcast and was not favourably impressed:
I have become accustomed to MLS paying for promotion under the guise of written articles, radio interviews, video interviews, and now a panel surrounded by legitimate companies. There is no way The Globe doesn’t see this. Sadly they are more interested in the revenue and maybe a few clicks on the video to follow.
In response to Matier’s claims made during the webcast that Canso is a great location, Geddes says, “How can this be the perfect location when they are planning to launch unproven rockets using 224 tonnes of LOX/RP1 plus 10.7 tonnes of NTO/UDMH less than 3km from our community?”
These are hazardous compounds, Geddes explains.
Geddes tells the Examiner that he was also surprised to hear Matier say that the spaceport project was “fully licensed,” the first time he has heard that. Matier often boasts that he has the permits he needs, but Geddes wonders what “licensed” means. Geddes gets Google alerts for MLS, follows every one of their announcements, and spends a lot of time on rocketry message boards, but says he has never heard the word “licensed” before.
Geddes says MLS would not be able to get a licence under current civil aviation regulations in Canada, unless he already had insurance.
Further, Geddes says, Matier said during the webcast that there will be 12 launches a year, while the environmental assessment approval from the province of Nova Scotia was for eight.
Geddes also says MLS isn’t even close to having a spaceport, although Matier claimed in the webcast that construction had been going on “for the last year or so.”
Geddes says the most recent actual construction at the site involved the pouring of a small concrete pad on March 20, 2023, after which a porta-potty and small work trailer were placed at the site. He says the only recent work has been the installation of a gate on the road to the site and the moving of the porta-potty and 20-foot container close to what MLS is calling the “launchpad.”
“I think if anybody who knew about launching rockets was asked about this project and MLS claims, they would call them on their bullshit,” he says. “This is nothing but a house of cards, this whole company.”
In Geddes’ view, The Globe and Mail webcast was just an “infomercial.”
“I’ve seen the Home Shopping Network not be as blatant,” he says.