Back in January, I made a little joke at Maritime Launch Service’s expense:
“The man behind Canada’s first commercial spaceport says the facility in northeastern Nova Scotia could see its first suborbital test launch sometime early this summer,” reports Keith Doucette for the Canadian Press:
Work that began last September on an access road to the launch site near Canso, N.S., is nearly complete, Maritime Launch Services CEO Steve Matier said Monday in an interview.
A small, concrete pad will then be poured to accommodate a small-scale launch to send a rocket briefly into space before it falls back to Earth, Matier said, adding that as things stand there’s no rush to set a firm date.
I don’t know what “briefly into space” means. It sounds like one of those vinegar and baking soda rocket things the kids play with.
And then I included this video of a kid and his dad launching a toy rocket in their suburban backyard:
That was unfair, mean, and dickish of me. That’s because there really is a rocket going to be launched at Canso this summer!
There it was, sitting in the barroom at AJ’s Pub in Canso last week, in all its glory. Ignore that kid on the TV screen with the skeptical smirk, as this is the real deal.
The rocket was created by the engineering students at the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University.
“We’re launching as a first rocket to be launched out of Space Port Nova Scotia thanks to the support of Maritime Launch Services and Launch Canada,” writes one of the students on social media. “The three of us (MLS, LC, and Arbalest Rocketry), are partnering together to make this happen… It was incredible to see the spaceport as it develops and to meet with the MLS team. We are VERY grateful to MLS and Launch Canada for helping us create this opportunity.”
I’ve asked MLS what its end of the “partnership” entails — is the company financially supporting the students? — but haven’t yet heard back.
But the students launched what looks like the same or a similar rocket last year at the Launch Canada Competition in Cochrane, Ontario. Here it is:
Totally different from that kid and his dad in their backyard.
I don’t fault the students. I see the educational aspect of toying with things. When I was in university, the engineering students at my school tossed eggs and pumpkins off the top of the four-storey library with various parachutes and substructures attached, in an attempt to land them safely on the concrete below without bursting to smithereens. I imagine this training came in handy in their subsequent professional careers, or at least provided somewhat hilarious anecdotes five drinks into staff parties.
And besides, the York students are actual rocket scientists! Along with brain surgeons, they’re the very yardstick of smartness. There’s probably an entire genre of Sapiosexual Porn, with rocket scientists and brain surgeons just sitting around talking to each other.
But you know how, say, a medical doctor doesn’t know how to change a flat tire, or a philosophy prof continually loses her keys? In much the same way, I fear that these student rocket scientists don’t understand they’re being used as props.
Let’s consider the latest press release from MLS, first picked up by spaceQ and then re-reported by Ars Technica:
Canadian spaceport making progress. Thanks to a mild winter, construction on roads for a Canadian spaceport continued throughout the season, spaceQ reports. This has allowed Maritime Launch Services, which is developing the spaceport in Nova Scotia, to begin work on a launch pad. The company hopes to host suborbital launch attempts this summer.
Step-by-step approach … If all goes well, the Nova Scotia spaceport will host an orbital launch attempt by Skyrora in early 2024, although that is predicated on the Edinburgh launch company being ready to go. The goal of these launches is for spaceport operators to learn and prepare for medium-lift launches later this decade. Maritime Launch Services sees a big demand for medium-lift that it would like to help meet.
The “suborbital launch” is presumably that rocket built by the York engineering students, which has obtained an altitude of 18,157 feet. The Kármán line is sometimes considered the beginning of space because that’s where a satellite can almost make a single orbit of the planet before falling back towards Earth. The Kármán line is at 330,000 feet, so the students are 5.5% of the way there.
What about the highly touted construction at Canso? The Action Against Canso Spaceport group went by last week and took some photos of the site. Here’s the road:
And here’s the “launchpad”:
But wait! Maritime Launch Service has an agreement with Skyrora for a “launch attempt”! “Sky” is right there in the name of the company! (I don’t know who Rora is.)
And what is Skyrora?
Not just anyone can be the subject of a multi-part investigative series titled “The Grift Empire” published by Snopes with the assistance of BuzzFeed News and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), but Max Polyakov has achieved exactly that. Polyakov is a British-Ukrainian IT entrepreneur who styles himself as the Ukrainian Elon Musk. He also own a significant chunk of Skyrora Limited.
Writes investigative reporter Alex Kasprak:
Snopes first reported on Polyakov in a February 2020 investigation that tied his venture capital firm Noosphere Ventures to a series of predatory dating websites employing fake profiles to compel people to give up their credit card information and trap them in a recurring subscription plan. This present series, which Snopes began reporting out full-time in April 2021, was originally pitched as a quick follow-up to see what, if anything, happened with those websites.
The scope of this project has since expanded considerably. Layers upon layers of research, Snopes found, reveal the massive scale of Polyakov’s financial interest in fraudulent or deceptive businesses. Employing often comically complex corporate structures involving myriad shell companies, Polyakov has attempted, rather successfully, to hide — or at least create plausible deniability regarding — the centrality of overt fraud to his entrepreneurial endeavors. This 18-month investigation puts an end to such fables, and it does so with receipts.
What this series reveals is a global network of shell companies tied to Polyakov or his associates that work in concert to enroll people into recurring credit card subscriptions to deceptive or effectively fake services. This network, we demonstrate, is built to shield those who profit from it most from liability. The broad outline of the scheme goes like this: A Polyakov-linked affiliate marketing company pays third parties to push scams that are, in many cases, also owned by Polyakov or his associates. Payments for these scams are then processed by a final Polyakov company, Maxpay, which makes money on a per-transaction basis.
In this series, Snopes reconstructs this grift empire in forensic detail, documenting the scheme and the people who profit from it as money flows from this network to, among other destinations, a Scottish aerospace company, Skyrora Limited. Polyakov quietly became an investor in Skyrora after our last investigation.
The investigative series is, as they say, a wild ride, with way-stops at predatory hookup websites called Bang Experts, Shagaholic, Be Naughty, Moms Gone Wild, and Flirty Cougars; a fraudulent billing company called MrPiggyBill; and a payment services provider called MaxPay which, in the words of a crime prevention expert, “has the hallmarks of a very complicated and complex money laundering network” — all of which are connected to Polyakov.
Polyakov’s space endeavours started with a US rocket manufacturer called Firefly Aerospace, but he shed himself of that investment after US regulators were concerned about the foreign ownership of a NASA contractor. He then started investing heavily into Skyrora Limited.
The Snopes report details the bizarrely complicated corporate ownerships and shell companies and so forth that go through Ukraine, Hong Kong, Slovenia, and elsewhere before eventually leading to Skyrora Limited, and believe me, the corporate shell game is Paper Excellence on steroids. Snopes concludes:
Polyakov presently benefits financially in multiple ways from the same two-bit, subscription-trap grift that he has been associated with for over a decade.
This company [Skyrora Limited], Snopes reveals, is unequivocally ‘funded by dating business activity,’ if not by the broader scam empire discussed in the preceding parts of this series.
It is one thing to amass a large amount of wealth through obviously shady or predatory business practices. It’s another thing entirely to demand the general public ignore the reality of those facts and instead buy into the notion that the former proprietor of Bang Experts is, as he says on LinkedIn, “creating a new, information-oriented society where information systems serve the whole of humanity.”
Turns out, there’s a lot of money in appealing to erotic fantasies, involving both wild moms and rockets.
I’ll leave it to others to decide if Maritime Launch Services should be judged by the company it keeps. What really matters is this: does MLS’s business stand up to scrutiny?
First, the positive news: After weeks of self-laudatory press releases, MLS’s stock price has more than doubled from its low of 8.5 cents a share in January to 19 cents yesterday, but not quite reaching its high of 20 cents per share of last May.
Now the not-so-positive news. In reports Maritimes Launch Services was required to file with security regulators on March 30, the company outlines the expected risks associated with the business, including that its first intended rocket providers, the Ukrainian companies Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash, are currently being bombed by the Russian military, and that its fallback plan is to use Skyrora rockets that have “limited or no flight heritage.”
But then it seems to contradict the above with this section:
Potential for Launch Failures
Rocket launches are inherently hazardous and there exists a potential for a launch site accident or critical launch failure which could result in damage to the Spaceport; damage or destruction of real or personal property of the Company, its clients or third parties; personal injury; or death or dismemberment to the Company employees, contractors or the general public. The risk of a launch site accident or critical launch failure, while remote, is serious. This risk increases for any launch vehicles with less flight heritage. The Company intends to account for this risk with robust launch insurance, however such insurance coverage and the scope and terms thereof have not been finalized and are subject to overall launch market success globally. The loss of a launch vehicle or satellite payload or damage to the Spaceport are covered items. The Company has selected Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash as suppliers because of the low technical risk associated with their products and unlikelihood of a launch failure.
I don’t see that MLS has any assessment of the potential for launch failure of Skyrora rockets specifically.
In a financial statement filed on March 24, the auditor noted that:
At December 31, 2022, the Company had no source of operating cash flow. Operations have been funded from the issuance of share capital and convertible debentures and as such, the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern is dependent upon the ability to obtain financing to be able to secure adequate bonding for future projects. It is not possible at this time to predict the outcome of these matters. The Company incurred a net comprehensive loss of $7,450,698 for the year ended December 31, 2022 (2021 – $4,317,406). As a result, there is material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt as to whether the Company will have the ability to continue as a going concern.
Who knows? All startups are iffy propositions, and most fail. MLS is in a difficult market, and the venture capital pool appears to be shrinking. I doubt seriously that MLS can lose another $10 million without another stock issuance, and it seems unlikely that such an issuance will raise the required cash. But what do I know? Stranger things have happened, and maybe MLS can pull it off.
Whether MLS is a success or not, Canso will be become part of my tour of the Dystopian Eastern Shore for visitors. I’ll drive by the abandoned Touquoy Mine, the Port of Pieridae’s Perfidy, what used to be the Sandy Shore but is now the Fogarty’s Cove Quarry, and Old Man Eviction Road in Melford. Then I’ll rev up the Firebird, pop Little Feat into the 8 Track, and speed off to the Moms Gone Wild Memorial Spaceport.
With files from Joan Baxter.
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“Christine Riley works every Tuesday and Wednesday at Delectable Desserts, a specialty bakery in Burnside,” reports Suzanne Rent:
Riley started her job at the bakery in March 2022, but first started baking as a young girl when her nan and great nan shared their baking skills with her.
Riley learned about Delectable Desserts via The Next Step Reverse Job Fair, a program offered by Easter Seals Nova Scotia that pairs employers with potential employees. The goal of the program is to help employers become more inclusive by hiring people with disabilities.
Rent speaks with Joanne Bernard, the president and CEO of Easter Seals Nova Scotia, which hosts “reverse job fairs” that connect people with disabilities with employers. As well, she speaks with Alice Evans, the executive director of Prescott Group:
Evans said Prescott has 40 full-time employees and 80 part-time staff, many of whom have disabilities. One of the most important aspects of employment with Prescott is its fair wage policy. All the staff at Prescott’s social enterprises are paid at least minimum wage, as is required by law. Prescott makes sure its employees are paid for any work they do. For example, employees who take part in photo shoots for Prescott’s marketing materials or join in on interviews of other staff get paid for their time. Paying a fair wage is also a requirement of the community employers Prescott works with, too.
“If someone is working, we make sure they are paid for the whole time they’re working, even if they’re being trained for the job. You still are working. You should be paid while you’re being trained,” Evans said.
“People with intellectual disabilities quite often are living in poverty, so we are really working hard to make sure people have work as much as they want it.”
This was especially important to me: these are not “sheltered workshop” operations.
Rent profiles several employees and the companies that hire people with disabilities. It’s good reporting.
Click here to read “‘Use their gifts and talent’: How employers can be more inclusive by hiring people with disabilities.”
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3. Question Period: Greening the grid
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
How and when Nova Scotia will manage to transition away from coal and toward more renewable sources of energy dominated Question Period at the legislature on Tuesday.
Premier Tim Houston indicated last week he is “not optimistic” about the prospects of the Atlantic Loop, a proposed overhead transmission system that could deliver hydro power from Quebec to the Maritimes, as time ticks by and it remains uncertain if Quebec still has supply or how large an investment Ottawa is prepared to make. The Atlantic Loop is now expected to cost close to $10 billion to build.
Liberal energy critic and former premier Iain Rankin questioned Houston and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton about what other options the province is exploring to find additional renewable sources of energy. Their vague answers left Rankin concerned. Here’s Iain Rankin:
This government has been in for 19 months now and I don’t see any further action to bring more renewables into our province. The only thing that’s on the table is the tender that we (the Liberal government) started to bring in more wind by 2025. We have coal-fired plant closures delayed – almost two years, one of them – so that’s expensive. What I have been saying since 2020 is coal is very expensive and we need to do the work to get off coal. There are federal programs they can reach into to support the transition.
There are four coal-fired plants in Nova Scotia, consisting of eight generating units. They provide about 45% of the electricity we consume. The legislated deadline for closing them is 2030. However, Emera, the parent company to Nova Scotia Power, continues to reference 2040 as the retirement date in its messaging to shareholders.
Rankin wanted to know when the Houston government expects the first coal-fired generator to close. Rushton suggested 2025-26.
Nova Scotia Power had actually planned to retire Lingan 2 in Cape Breton back in 2021, once the utility was receiving uninterrupted hydro from Muskrat Falls.
But ongoing delays with the full commissioning of the Labrador Island Link (LIL) that moves electricity by cable from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to the island of Newfoundland has forced Nova Scotia Power to postpone the retirement of its first coal-fired unit. Lingan 2 can’t come offline until there is certainty the LIL won’t be out-of-service for further testing and commissioning.
According to a fuel audit for 2020-2021 prepared for the Utility and Review Board, the carrying cost of Lingan 2 is approximately $4 million a year for ratepayers. The audit recommends Nova Scotia Power pursue Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro to make up that $4 million through additional imports.
Another path to reducing dependency on coal could be to import more renewables from New England and potentially New Brunswick, which is exploring developing more nuclear and wind.
The bottleneck is the need for a second transmission line at the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border. The current power line has been at full capacity for more than 10 years.
Even if the Atlantic Loop never proceeds, there is demonstrated need for a second ‘inter-tie’ that could allow for additional imports from New Brunswick and New England.
As reported by the Halifax Examiner last February, there are ongoing discussions between Nova Scotia Power and NB Power about a second inter-tie that could carry 500 MW of additional capacity. The overhead power line would be routed between Salisbury, NB and Onslow, NS.
On Tuesday, Rushton told reporters he is aware that Nova Scotia Power is starting consultations with property owners in Cumberland county to prepare for a second inter-connection with New Brunswick.
Asked if he had met with Nova Scotia Power president Peter Gregg since the public dispute over power rates, Rushton said they had sat down a few weeks ago, adding: “That’s why I can say quite confidently that Nova Scotia Power is still at the table with renewable energy. They are still at the table with the Atlantic Loop. And they are still in conversation with the government.”
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4. Charlie Angus
Joan Baxter yesterday interviewed Federal NDP MP and natural resources critic Charlie Angus about his motion to bring Paper Excellence owner Jackson Wijaya before the parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources to answer questions about the company’s ownership.
Click here to read “NDP Natural Resources critic Charlie Angus speaks about Paper Excellence.”
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Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — agenda
Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda
Public Information Meeting (Thursday, 5:30pm, HEMDCC Meeting room, Alderney Gate) — Case 24619, application for an addition to the former Dartmouth Post Office at 53 Queen Street, Dartmouth
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, One Government Place and online) — Accountability Report and Business Plan, with a representative from the Department of Public Works
Artificial Intelligence, ChatGPT, and academic integrity (Thursday, 2pm, online) — free 90-minute panel discussion
In the harbour
11:00: Maersk Corsica, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
11:30: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, moves from Pier 25 to Imperial Oil
13:00: Morning Charlotte, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 9
14:00: Harbour Fashion, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
18:30: Humen Bridge, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
19:30: Coe Luisa, cargo ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Charleston, South Carolina
21:30: Coe Luisa sails for sea
14:30: Sheila Ann, bulker, sails from Nova Scotia Power (Point Tupper) for sea
19:00: Starway, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
I was going to write a thing about… well, what does it matter? I didn’t write it. I’m feeling overly geezerly of late, miserly parceling out what little time I have left lest the whippersnappers take too much of it for their hippity hop and their avocado toast and whatnot.
The rocket article and the resulting comments are the funniest things I have read in a long time. Thank you.
Deja vu 1970s, John Shaheen. “One of Shaheen’s most memorable moments took place in the fall of 1974, when he chartered Queen Elizabeth 2 to bring dignataries to a barren plot of land on the Nova Scotia mainlan, opposite Bear Head, Cape Breton. The inhabitants of the land had been cleared to make way for a large oil refinery ….” Wikipedia. Also written about in Stephen Kimber’s book “Not Guilty” The Trial of Gerald Regan. When will we ever learn?
Re: Canso. If I lived near a facility that identified a serious risk of “death or dismemberment to … the general public” I would hope they would address the risk with increased safety precautions, not increased insurance coverage.
Spoiler alert: they won’t!
I used to build and fly Estes model rockets as a kid in the abandoned quarry near my house – some got as high as 1000 feet. Inspired by this article, I’m off to add “successfully constructed and flew sub-orbital rockets” to my CV.