Thursday, November 09, 2017

Commercial Space and Rocket Port Shenanigans

          By Chuck Black

There's weird stuff going on behind the November 9th, 2017 announcement from Steve Matier, the CEO of Halifax, NS based based Maritime Launch Services (MLS), that his firm is targeting a May 1st, 2018 start date to begin construction on Canada’s first commercial spaceport.

The pitch and the people, including a new one. Since the last time this blog checked, as part the November 7th, 2017 post, "The Ukraine State Space Agency & Aerospace Industry Needs All the Help It Can Get," MLS has added director Joseph Hasay (second from left) to it's roster. According to his Linked-In profile, Hasay is President/CEO at Santa Maria, CA based United Paradyne Corporation, which provides operations and engineering support for the space launch industry. Others listed include CEO Matier (who currently lives in New Mexico and acts as an independent consultant), CTO Dave Walsh (the VP and chief technical officer at United Paradyne), program manager Alona Andriienko and VP of strategic development Yaroslav Pustivyi who, at least until noon today, was listed on the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) website at their "director and acting chair of the board." Graphic c/o MLS

According to Matier, the space port will be funded through private financing (with "secured commitments" of nearly $400Mln CDN  and with "series A," financing currently in "final closing," whatever that might mean), but with "no funding coming either from the Canadian or Ukrainian governments."

This information was passed along via the November 9th, 2017 SpaceQ post, "Maritime Launch Services Targets May 1 to Begin Construction at Nova Scotia Spaceport," but has not been corroborated through any other source this blog has been able to access.

Forgive us if we're missing something, but if true, this makes the project very, very unusual and quite confusing.

November 9th, 2017 screenshot of the SpaceQ website showing comments from MLS CEO Steve Mattier reflecting his statements that the MLS proposal to set up a commercial space port in Canso, NS is a "commercial project with no funding coming from either the Canadian or Ukrainian government." As for the MDA promotional ad on the SpaceQ site, you'll need to check out the November 10, 2017 post, "Even its Head Office Now Considers MDA, 'a business unit of Maxar Technologies'." Graphic c/o SpaceQ

For example, Spaceport America, generally considered to be"the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport" is funded much like most other commercial airports and space launch facilities as a public private partnership (P3), in order to spread out risk and insure the participation of the appropriate legislators, who tend to have a lot of laws relating to this sort of thing.

The investors look to government as guarantors to confirm that the law will not stand in the way of the project and the government looks to the private sector to drive the project forward and insure funding.

MLS and their proposed Canso, NS rocket launch facility isn't a P3, at least according to the announcement. Here's what we know so far.

There is evidence, even within the SpaceQ website that MLS is absolutely hoping to line up government partnerships. The November 4th, 2017 SpaceQ post, "Canada and Ukraine Sign Space Agreement to Cooperate on Space Activities," has made clear both the connections MLS currently enjoys with the Ukrainian government and the connections it hopes to develop in the near future with the Canadian government.

Oddly enough, SpaceQ has backtracked on this story.

A retraction, plus a clear statement of bias. From the November 9th, 2017 Short Cuts from SpaceQ post. 

As outlined in the November 9th, 2017 More Commercial Space News post, "Glad to see SpaceQ set record strait on erroneous Canada/ Ukrainian space story," SpaceQ admitted that Canada and the Ukraine did not sign a "comprehensive memorandum (MOU) of understanding."

Instead SpaceQ said that, while "discussions leading up to the signing of the MOU were comprehensive," the agreement itself was not. The SpaceQ post then went on to say:
While the CSA did not think it warranted a press release or informing the public though social media of the agreement, SpaceQ feels that was a mistake. As a government agency it has a responsibility in being transparent and providing the public with information pertaining to agreements it signs. After all, it is the public that funds the agency through their tax dollars. The CSA works for each and every one of us.
As outlined in the November 6th, 2017 post, "The Ukraine State Space Agency & Aerospace Industry Needs All the Help It Can Get," MLS CEO Matier was invited to a signing ceremony between the Ukrainian and Canadian governments by the Ukrainian government at the Canadian-Ukrainian aerospace forum in Montreal, PQ last week.

There is certainly nothing wrong with that. It's pretending that government participation hasn't been solicited and isn't required which is the problem.

It's amazing what can happen over lunch. As shown above, the CSCA website as recently as the morning of November  9th, 2017 included both MLS VP Pustivyi and Marc Boucher, the editor/ owner of (which has acted in the past as a strong advocate for the MLS proposal), as part of their "Mission Team." But by the afternoon on November 9th, both names had been removed, replaced by new set of directors. These included Alec Wenzowski (previously listed as the CSCA VP of development and partnerships), Randal Lilko (no bio, but likely Randall Lilko,  an engineer with Honeywell Aerospace in Toronto, ON who spells his name with two "L's"), Tasha De Freitas (also with no bio, but likely a senior associate focused on intellectual property at the Tory's law firm in Toronto, ON) and "Stuart Crane," who could very well be the person previously known as "Baron Stewart Crane of Cluny." Screenshot c/o CSCA website

And here's where it gets really weird.

When the November 9th, 2017 More Commercial Space News post, "Glad to see SpaceQ set record strait on erroneous Canada/ Ukrainian space story," suggested that now would be a good time to come clean on the connections between SpaceQ, MLS and the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA), an advocacy group pushing for more space engagement for the Canadian government, this blog received the most peculiar e-mail from SpaceQ editor Marc Boucher.

As stated in his first November 9th, 2017 e-mail correspondence to this blog, "FYI. The CSCA has yet to update their website since the last AGM but Yarko (MLS VP and CSCA director and acting chair Pustivyi, has) resigned. They have a new board."

When asked a follow-up question on the composition of the new board, Boucher said, "Ask them. Also, I had resigned as an advisor. The CSCA website does not reflect that."

The new CSCA board of directors as per the CSCA website at 6pm EST on November 9th, 2017. A quick search through the CSCA media release page shows no explanation for the changing board composition when compared to the day before. Graphic c/o CSCA website.

Inquiries to CSCA executive director Michelle Mendes and others have so far met with no response but this blog was prudent enough to record what the CSCA site looked like previous to today.

As outlined in the November 2nd, 2017 post, "Media Refused Entrance to Thursday's CSCA Meeting at Denton's Law Firm," the CSCA has certainly not been forthcoming about its activities lately.

That's not to say that any of the above information and list of activities make a whole lot of sense as it stands.

To see where does this story goes, you'll have to stay tuned.
    Chuck Black.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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